NC, SC leaders meet to talk final extension of Highway 31 - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

NC, SC leaders meet to talk final extension of Highway 31

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - While many Horry County residents are eager to see the completion of Carolina Bays Parkway from Highway 544 to Highway 707, on Wednesday, lawmakers, state officials and others met to ramp up talks about the next phase of the project.

The northern end of Carolina Bays Parkway, or Highway 31, ends at Highway 9 in Little River. The fourth and final phase of the project would pick up there, and take the highway into North Carolina through Brunswick County for about 12 miles.

"It would end on Highway 17 near North Carolina route 904 in Brunswick County," explained Mike Barbee with SC DOT.

The point for the meeting in Brunswick County was to get leaders from both states together to talk specifics of finishing the project. Representatives from North and South Carolina DOT's said the Carolina Bays Parkway project is a top priority. The roads are clogged and too many people have to drive on them.

"Both Horry County... as everyone knows, and Brunswick County have experienced a lot of growth," Barbee said. "It puts tremendous strain on our existing network that now is carrying traffic volumes it was never meant to carry."

As the third phase of the project - connecting Highway 544 and 707 on the southern end of Horry County - is poised to wrap up summer of 2017, the first step to move forward on phase four is examining the environmental effects of building 12 miles of highway. A study looking at how wetlands, existing schools, homes and businesses will be affected is necessary.

"Any highway project of this magnitude is going to have an impact to homes and businesses," according to Barbee. "It's our job to make sure those impacts are minimized to the extent we can. It's unrealistic to think you can build any project with no impacts, but that's why that environmental statement process takes so long."

As part of RIDE III, Horry County is dishing out funds for that study, the part that will take place in county limits. Mike Barbee said North Carolina officials will hopefully follow suit with money to get the ball rolling for their state.

The study will take years. When it's finished, officials will look at which route of several outlined will be the easiest on the environment and the most cost-effective. Public opinion and forums will help with the decision.

Eventually, years down the road, construction can finally begin. As for a timeline, officials said trying to pick a date is like trying to hit a moving target. But it's expected to be between eight and ten years before the ribbon on the fourth phase is cut.

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