The widening of Carolina Forest Boulevard could cost $15.4 million less than originally projected, according to Horry County officials’ latest estimates.
The No. 3 project in the RIDE III road-building program, the boulevard widening is funded by a 1 % sales tax that voters approved in 2016. Although the project was expected to require $54.7 million, estimates presented Thursday show the road work costing $39.3 million — $15.4 million less than the original price tag. That projection doesn’t include a $3 million contingency fund built into the estimates, meaning there could be over $18 million left after the work is completed.
“We do anticipate to come in under budget,” said Jason Thompson, the RIDE III program manager, though he cautioned the project is just breaking ground June 17 and other challenges could arise. Any money not used for the boulevard widening would go back to the RIDE III program to help cover overruns on other projects.
Thompson said bids for the boulevard work came in below engineer estimates, and the county also spent less on right-of-way acquisitions and wetlands mitigation than expected.
A second path
The boulevard project involves widening a 5.7-mile stretch of road. The two-lane portion of the boulevard from Gateway Drive to River Oaks Drive will expand to four lanes.
A 10-foot-wide path will also be constructed down the western side of the road.
County officials are still considering adding a second multipurpose path to the boulevard’s design.
Residents on the eastern side of the boulevard have voiced concerns about crossing the busy road to reach the path. They’ve also wondered why the path was placed on the western side of the road when public facilities such as the library and recreation center are on the eastern side.
Horry County Councilman Dennis DiSabato, whose district includes part of Carolina Forest, said county officials are working on a solution.
“I’m optimistic that we’re going to have some type of safety measure in place that will allow pedestrian traffic along Carolina Forest Boulevard on the east side of the roadway,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be a multi-use path — I’m pushing for that — but it may end up just being a pedestrian path that gets certain [developments] to safe crosswalks. But there’s going to be a way for homeowners on that east side of the road to get to the multi-use path so they can come to the rec center and the library and other areas along the boulevard.”
A second multi-use path is projected to cost $5 million. DiSabato wants to use some of the leftover money from the project for the additional path.
When will it be finished?
Southern Asphalt, the company that won the boulevard bid, has 700 days to finish the project. That means the anticipated completion date is May 17, 2021.
Southern Asphalt also won the bid for the extension of International Drive, which opened months behind schedule. Despite resident concerns about delays with the boulevard project, the contractor stressed that widening the boulevard should be a simpler endeavor because it involves expanding an existing road rather than building one through the wilderness.
“It’s really not as hard as what everybody’s thinking,” said Nick Godwin, vice president of Southern Asphalt. “You’ve already got a base to work off of."
If the contractor is late finishing the road, county officials can penalize the firm up to $5,000 per day.
As crews prepare to begin construction, county officials urged residents to remain patient and to be mindful of workers on the boulevard.
“Safety is the most important concern,” Thompson said.
“It’s going to probably cause some heartburn with traffic in the construction process,” the councilman said. “But I can assure everyone that once the road is completed it is going to make quality of life in Carolina Forest a whole lot better for everybody.”
For Jen Clouse, who lives in The Farm, navigating boulevard traffic can be a slog.
“It does get frustrating because if you’re trying to come out of a neighborhood onto the road, you could be sitting there forever waiting to get out,” she said. “There’s the constant turning into neighborhoods, so you kind of just feel like you’re constantly stopping and going.”
Clouse is concerned about the impact of construction on road traffic, but she sees the benefits of the expansion.
“I’m definitely looking forward to having the project be complete,” she said. “Not looking forward to the period of time that they’re going to be working on it.”