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Bike the Neck: New parks may lead to new route for bikeway

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A new Bike the Neck route under discussion might detour off of Highway 17 in Litchfield to cut through Stables Park and connect it with Parkersville Park.

“That’s the key element,” said Paul Battaglino, Georgetown County’s capital projects coordinator. “Essentially we’re creating a strong recreation way with this configuration.”

Plans show the path extending 3.5 miles from Gilligan’s, along the side of Lakes at Litchfield and through a portion of Santee Cooper’s right of way to the park. From there, it would go down Parkersville Road (all of which should be paved by then), exiting Parkersville Park at Pettigru Drive and connecting to another trail segment on Waverly Road. Easements from several businesses would be required.

There’s no funding in place for the project and discussions about obtaining easements haven’t started because the route for the path might change.

“It’s strictly in the concept stages,” Battaglino said.

The idea came up as officials with Georgetown County and Bike the Neck, the organization dedicated to expanding the bikeway, started looking at ways to extend it south. Plans are for the bikeway to eventually reach the Georgetown bridge.

“The other thing we’re trying to do is come up with an alternate plan from having it right on Highway 17, where there are obvious concerns about heavy traffic and numerous curb cuts, particularly on the west side from Willbrook Boulevard to Waverly,” Battaglino said.

The plans are a compromise between a route along Kings River Road once proposed by an area transportation study committee and the East Coast Greenway, and the route originally delineated, which came straight down Highway 17.

“But that was done so many years ago that it predated all the development and curb cuts for all these residential communities and commercial properties,” said Linda Ketron, chairwoman of Bike the Neck. “It would be very dangerous now to use that route.”

With the county moving forward with plans to develop Stables Park and build a recreation center at Parkersville Park, Ketron said a path that linked the parks seemed like a perfect solution. Not only would it provide a safer, more scenic route, it would give cyclists a destination.

“It connects recreation facilities where there will be park benches they can stop and sit on or they can bike to the park and have a picnic,” Ketron said. “And it establishes a safe loop, so they don’t have to ride from Kings River to Waverly and just turn around and ride it back again.”

The county expects to start construction on Stables Park in October with an opening following in September 2012. The recreation center should open in December 2012.

The trail would also “serve all this new development that has happened on what used to be basically wetlands and the internal communities that have been there for years, like Parkersville,” Ketron added. “Those communities have a bike riding population and were very disappointed when we had to abandon the route we had planned.”

The idea to move this part of the trail off the main drag has been “bouncing around for a couple of years now,” according to Battaglino.

“We came up with the layout when Fresh Market was in the planning stages,” he said. “There was a portion of the bike path that was supposed to have been provided by Fresh Market in front of their property and we thought, ‘Here we go again, another section of path with curb cuts on either side and heavy traffic.’ That’s when we returned to the planning process, but we still wanted to achieve the same goal, to link it up with Waverly.

“It’s just a concept, but it’s one that we — the county and Bike the Neck — feel is workable.”

However according to Ketron, it could be 2020 or later before that part of the path gets built.

Three other sections of the bikeway that are nearing construction are under review by the state Department of Transportation.

Paths will be constructed from Willbrook Boulevard to the north side of the parking lot at All Saints Church, from the parking lot to the junction of Kings River and Waverly roads, and from Waccamaw Elementary School to Martin Luther King Road.

The Georgetown County School District, working with Safe Routes to School, is in charge of the segment of the path that runs in front of the school, but the other two segments are county projects. All are being managed by DOT.

“I just saw an e-mail this morning that they made another minor change on the configuration,” Battaglino said. “Once we’ve arrived at a final design, and it’s acceptable to all parties and we’re able to get easements south of All Saints, we’ll be able to get a final estimate of probable cost.”

About $1 million is on hand for the three sections, but a preliminary cost estimate from the engineer came in at $1.3 million, according Mark Hoeweler, assistant executive director for Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments.

“We’re hoping to reduce the scope of the project or we’ll have to find other funding sources,” he told a group of Waccamaw Neck property owners last week.

DOT won’t release the project for bids unless all of the funding is in place.

Whether to build the sections in phases or all at once is still under discussion. It would be cheaper to build them at once, but “if there are major obstacles with one section, it would hold up everything,” Battaglino said.

He would like to see at least the Kings River Road section complete as soon as possible, because of the danger to cyclists along that roadway, he said.

Benjamin Thomas, a 13-year-old from Florida, was killed by a truck while bike riding with his family on Kings River Road in July 2005. He was struck head-on by a Coca-Cola truck trying to pass a golf maintenance tractor on the road. His family was vacationing on Pawleys Island.

When Thomas was killed, “the path was already a year behind schedule,” Ketron said.

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