HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – For residents living along the Grand Strand, just driving to the grocery store on a congested highway like U.S. 501 can be a hassle. Now, the government has come up with a way to help locals get around the area easier.
On Tuesday, the first of about 25 signs was strategically placed at decision points in roadways to lead people to Carolina Bays Parkway and Conway Bypass. The point is to lessen some of the congestion on highways 544 and 501. They're called way-signs. The signs are aimed at tourists who need alternate route assistance and don't know where attractions like Barefoot Landing or Market Common are. The Assistant Executive Director of Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments, Mark Hoeweler, was a key component in the implementation of the signs.
"The prime motive for this was better utilizing the capacities of Carolina Bays Parkway and Conway Bypass...that those roads were being under-utilized in the peak season...and people weren't looking at 31 and 22 as better alternatives," Hoeweler said. He also says the signs have been well-received with residents so far.
Way-finding signs will be posted as far south as Georgetown, up to North Myrtle Beach, and as far west as Aynor. The signs were inspired by similar projects in cities like Charlotte, and also stemmed from South Carolina government studies on how to improve transportation flow with growing populations. "There are eleven of those groups in South Carolina that do transportation studies in the urban areas," Hoeweler said.
Discussion of placing way-finding signs heightened in 2008 when the Hard Rock Amusement park opened. Traffic was a concern, but the park didn't last long enough to order and use the signs.
The way-signs are color-coded. North Myrtle is orange, Myrtle Beach is blue and the South Strand is green. All three colors are symbolic of the sun, ocean and sea grass. Large signs are placed as you enter the three different destinations and their assigned color is spread across the top of the sign, as well as the symbol with the sun, ocean and sea grass. Smaller signs are along the highways with colored boxes associated with that destination to lead you to 31 and 22.
Message boards are also on the way, Hoeweler said. These boards will be monitored by the South Carolina Department of Transportation and give drivers minute-to-minute updates on 544 and 501 drive times compared to those of 31 and 22, so the driver can decide which road to take. The boards are supposed to arrive in September.
The bulk of the way-sign funding for the project became available in the last fiscal year. Hoeweler says about $2.5 million was budgeted for the project and the idea was initiated by Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes.
Hoeweler says the council hopes hotels and restaurants will inform visitors of how to use the signs either by telling them or including it in their pamphlets.