roads

Hurricane Florence set a new benchmark for flooding in Horry County.

High water closed major highways in Horry County for days, creating massive traffic jams and presenting life-threatening issues for many people.

At its height, the flood closed portions of S.C 9 near Longs, S.C. 905, S.C. 22 and S.C. 90.

Thankfully, U.S. 501 Business and U.S. 501 Bypass remained open throughout the ordeal, with the exception of a few closures on the Bypass, so that barriers could be put in place and then removed.

At one point during the crisis, the S.C. Depart-ment of Transport-ation feared flooding might also force the closures of bridges on U.S. 501 at Galivants Ferry, U.S. 701, U.S. 17 South and U.S. 378.

Had that happened, Horry County would have been cut off from the rest of the state. A contingency plan was in place to fly emergency supplies into the county.

None of those fears materialized.

When those who govern begin the task of examining the impact of Hurricane Florence, many options must be considered to improve roads in Horry County.

Already, some on Conway City Council have suggested building a new, elevated bridge on U.S. 501 to replace the existing road bed.

I think that’s a great idea, but it will take at least 10 years to have such a project, vetted, funded and built (probably longer).

In the meantime, SCDOT should look at elevating the U.S. 501 Bypass roadbed several feet to avoid the necessity of temporary barriers for future flooding.

Keep in mind, the U.S. 501 Bypass already serves as a dam and probably contributed to some of the flooding issues involving residential areas of Conway.

Water from Hurricane Florence never topped the bypass. So, building the road up a few feet should not exacerbate the situation for Conway residents in flood-prone areas of the city.

Fixing the flood problems on S.C. 22 and S.C. 9 won’t be nearly as practical. Those major highways were covered by deep water during the hurricane. The cost of raising them up would be astronomical.

However, government could afford to fix some of the choke points at other locations around the county that contributed significantly to transportation problems during Hurricane Florence.

Many of these low points close on a regular basis due to flash flooding.

Tom Garigen, the county’s stormwater manager, hopes attention will be given to the roads that give the county the most trouble during storms.

He pointed to closures on U.S. 701 North at Crabtree Swamp and the Homewood area as a particularly troublesome stretch.

When those spots flood, which they do during heavy rains, the county’s emergency operations center is cut off to the north and south. It has just one outlet road — Cultra Road.

“If you have to go anywhere, it’s crazy,” Garigen said. “Those are going to be on my list of projects that we’re going to work on.”

Garigen hopes the county will be able to obtain some flood mitigation funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to address some of these issues.

He said other areas of the county could also see less water if infrastructure improvements are made.

Several areas on S.C. 905 and S.C. 90 have similar low spots that could be fixed by raising the road bed or extending bridges.

Of course simply building roads higher could impede the flow of water and impact people in flood-prone areas even more. A lot of thought must be given to the road fixes being suggested.

I wish Horry County Council could take a second look at the RIDE III road program and divert some of the money to the existing road system. There are millions of dollars in the RIDE III fund that could be used to fix the roads that are subject to frequent flooding.

Perhaps council should have its legal team explore the possibility of moving RIDE III money around to meet these pressing road problems.

Given the opportunity, I would vote in a referendum to revise RIDE III priorities.

The Waccamaw River crested nearly four feet above all other recorded floods. That is far higher than most people ever thought it would rise.

Will it happen again, or was this a once in a lifetime event?

Frankly, I don’t expect to see this kind of flooding again. However, leaders must prepare for the possibility.

Natural disasters happen all the time in almost every corner of the world.

People in the Midwest must contend with tornadoes. Folks in California deal with wildfires. Northerners battle furious blizzards.

Here, in the South, we live with the threat of hurricanes and catastrophic flooding.

About the best we can do when a natural disaster strikes is learn from the experience, pick up the pieces and keep on keeping on.

With that in mind, I’m hopeful our leaders and those in the position to do something positive will learn from the historic flood of 2018 and take steps now to alleviate troublesome road woes.

If anything positive can be learned from the historic flood of 2018, it is this: we have a much clearer picture of which roads are most vulnerable to high water.

Now, let’s do something about it!

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Steve Robertson is owner and publisher of the Waccamaw Publishers family of community newspapers

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