BRUNSWICK COUNTY — An over half-billion dollar highway project is being designed to streamline transportation between North and South Carolina.
The Carolina Bays Parkway Extension would connect S.C. 31 directly to Highway 17 in Brunswick County.
Right now, S.C. 31 — Carolina Bays Parkway — runs inland and parallel to Highway 17 in South Carolina along the Myrtle Beach metropolitan area. The 24-mile long parkway ends just 4.5 miles short of the border in South Carolina.
Traffic connects S.C. 31 to Highway 17 through a 1.5-mile terminus along S.C. 9. The over half-billion dollar project instead proposes to extend S.C. 31 where it drops off, and connect it to Highway 17 in Brunswick County.
A joint Carolinas project
There are no plans in place to construct the costly extension yet. The project’s first public meeting is planned this spring, with public hearings set for next summer.
It would cost an estimated $551.7 million to extend S.C. 31 into Brunswick County, with North Carolina contributing nearly twice what South Carolina would — estimates show the project would cost North Carolina $366.7 million and South Carolina $185 million.
But funds wouldn’t just come from each state. Because the extension project anticipates using federal funds, it must be in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. This act requires an environmental impacts assessment of the subject area, which stretches for 19 miles and straddles the border. Significantly more land in North Carolina — 14 miles — will be studied, compared to South Carolina’s 5-mile study area.
The extension includes constructing a “multilane, full control access freeway,” according to a North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) preliminary project overview. Bridges will be installed over select cross streets, the overview states, with no driveway connections allowed.
The project’s first newsletter drafted jointly by both NCDOT and South Carolina Department of Transportation states the project will provide a more direct route for tourist and coastal truck traffic.
South Carolina appears to be further along in planning the project. That could be because the extension would provide more economic benefit to the Myrtle Beach metro area than it would to southern Brunswick County.
At a Cape Fear Area Rural Transportation Planning Organization transportation priority meeting in June 2018, Allen Serkin, director of Local Government Services for the Cape Fear Council of Governments said the project is complicated for North Carolina.
“It’s an extremely expensive project, it is mostly in North Carolina so we spend most of the money, but it fixes a traffic problem in South Carolina,” he said.
He said S.C. 31 as it is currently laid out, ends before reaching the border. “It just kind of terminates,” he said. “It doesn’t continue because there’s no road between where it ends and the state line.”
With tourism dollars likely at stake, North Carolina has not yet set a date to begin right-of-way land acquisition, but South Carolina has. Although the exact path of the highway project is not yet known, South Carolina is prepared to begin land acquisition in 2021.
“It is marginally beneficial – it is not as beneficial for North Carolina as it is for South Carolina,” Serkin said. “That makes it a very complicated project.”
Though no economic impact study has been completed, Serkin said the project would provide greater access to Myrtle Beach.
“It’s going to help Myrtle Beach a lot more than it’s going to help Brunswick county, I would think,” he said.
A public input survey is available online now, with an environmental decision document is due by summer 2021. Comments are requested to be received by Jan. 31, 2019.
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