Construction crews expect to begin widening Carolina Forest Boulevard on June 17.
Horry County staff on Wednesday held a project meeting with the contractor, Southern Asphalt, and set that date as the starting point for work on the long-awaited $54.7 million expansion.
“I know it’s hard to believe,” David Schwerd, the county’s director of planning and zoning, told the Carolina Forest Civic Association earlier this month. “Some of you probably won’t believe it until you see it happen. … They have 700 days, less than two years, to have it all done.”
The project ranks No. 3 in RIDE III, the county’s nearly $600 million road-building program that is funded by a 1 percent sales tax.
The Carolina Forest Boulevard contract calls for expanding the two-lane portion of the boulevard to four lanes from Gateway Drive to River Oaks Drive and building a multi-purpose path beside the road. Officials have discussed constructing a second path on the eastern side of the road, but that hasn’t been decided yet. A second path wasn’t in the original design.
“For me, the priority is that the road gets built like the voters voted on,” Schwerd said.
Jason Thompson, the RIDE III program manager, said officials expect the boulevard widening to come in under budget.
Although the estimated cost is $54.7 million, Southern Asphalt was the low bidder for construction, coming in at $26.8 million. Once the engineering, right-of-way acquisition and other expenses have been accounted for, county officials plan to have some money left over, though they aren’t sure how much.
“There are some funds that may be available,” Thompson said. “We cannot release those funds yet because we have to build the project first.”
If the contractor is late finishing the road, county officials can penalize the firm up to $5,000 per day.
During county staff’s presentation to the civic association, some residents criticized the road’s design. There are no street lights, no rumble strips and a limited number of traffic signals for busy intersections.
“Not everybody’s going to be happy with every intersection,” Schwerd said. “Not everybody’s going to be happy with how they get out of their neighborhood. We have to look at the overall traffic volume. … A lot of traffic study went into it. We tried to accommodate left and right separate turn lanes for every major development along the road.”
Rich Galante, who lives in Plantation Lakes, questioned Schwerd about the lack of a traffic light at that community’s entrance. He worries about children needing to cross the street to reach the multi-purpose path that goes past the Carolina Forest Recreation Center and the library.
“That’s a safety concern,” he said.
Schwerd noted that traffic signals don’t always make for safer traveling conditions. He said drivers often focus on the color of the lights rather than paying closer attention to their surroundings.
“Signals don’t necessarily reduce fatalities and serious injuries,” he said. “What they do is make people rely on technology and they stop paying attention to how people are driving.”
Mike and Michelle Travisano of Avalon worry about the raised medians planned for dividing the road. Although county officials said the medians would add to the aesthetics of the project, the couple fears the medians won’t be maintained and could become a safety hazard if the grass is too high.
“They’re a waste of money and time,” Mike Travisano said of the medians. “They should just put a fifth lane all the way down the middle, paint that lane and use that one lane as a designated turn lane for any development. If there’s a breakdown of a car, at least they can get in the middle.”
Some residents wondered whether environmental groups would challenge the project in court, delaying construction for years the way International Drive’s progress was postponed.
Schwerd said that shouldn’t happen because the environmental organizations want the county to improve existing infrastructure rather than add new roads.
Although officials anticipate there will be some lane closures during construction, they said those will take place at night (from 7 p.m.-7 a.m.) to avoid heavy traffic.
“There’s a lot of construction that can occur during the day that will not require lane closures and intersection restrictions,” Schwerd said. “As much as can be done during the day will be done during the day.”
Carole vanSickler, president of the civic association, encourages residents to keep cool heads as the road work ramps up.
“During this 700 days of construction, we’re all going to have to be very patient,” she said, “especially those homeowners who are closer to Carolina Forest Boulevard.”