Horry County officials are considering using money from the RIDE III road-building program to pay for a second multipurpose path along Carolina Forest Boulevard.
County projections indicate the boulevard widening could come in more than $15 million under budget and county staffers are looking at whether some of that money could pay for an additional path on the eastern side of the road. A similar path is already in the budget for the road’s western side.
“There’s really not any options that are off the table at this point,” county spokeswoman Kelly Moore said. “It looks like there’s going to be some savings in that project that could allow for that to happen. Part of it would be, in some cases, addressing safety issues. You’re going to have, with the widening of the road, increased traffic volume. And you’re going to want people to be able to safely cross.”
The No. 3 project in RIDE III, the boulevard widening is funded by a 1% sales tax that voters approved in 2016. It 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.
Although the project was expected to require $54.7 million, early estimates 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.
County councilman Dennis DiSabato, who lives in Carolina Forest, has continued to push for a second path. He said residents on the eastern side of the boulevard have expressed concerns about crossing the busy road to reach a walking 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.
“The people I represent definitely need a safe way to get to the rec center and the [library],” he said. “Crossing that boulevard is going to be more dangerous than it already is.”
County officials have said a second path could cost as much as $5 million. DiSabato had suggested using some of the money expected to be leftover from RIDE II projects for the path, but county staff have recently begun looking at the RIDE III funding because that’s what is already paying for the widening and the project is expected to be under budget.
But is a second path necessary?
Victor Costa, who lives in Plantation Lakes, said he would like to see some research showing who would actually use the path. He said he rarely sees people walking on the paths beside the widened S.C. 707 and he wonders if the boulevard investment is worth the price.
“Any undertaking of public funding requires a feasibility analysis,” he said. “Is there a need? And does that need justify the expenditure?”
Moore, the county spokeswoman, said there are no plans for any research on pedestrian traffic, but she said there have been requests for walking paths countywide.
The boulevard widening remains mostly on schedule, though the deadline has been pushed back more than a week to account for inclement weather.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the boulevard entrance to the Bellegrove subdivision will be closed from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. for asphalt work. There will also be an evening lane closure on the boulevard from 7 p.m. Thursday until 6 a.m. Friday for road construction.
“It sounds like it’s something they’re trying to wrap into the work that’s currently going on,” she said. “So I think you will know sooner versus later.”