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Bike the Neck: Options are cheap or easy, but not both

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Like a cyclist coming off a long, hard climb, the citizens group behind the Bike the Neck trail isn’t prepared to coast after completing the latest phase of the route. Members want to shift gears and maintain the pace.

“We can’t lose momentum,” said Richard Heusel, a member of the committee, “or it will die.”

“It languishes, no doubt,” said Linda Ketron, founder of the group, but over 21 years there have been ups and downs, though nothing quite like the seven years it took to complete the section along Kings River and Waverly roads that opened this spring, she added.

There are four options in front of the group, which is now trying to figure out which one can be funded and completed in the shortest time. There is a mile-long stretch between Boyle and Trace drives in North Litchfield that would fill in a gap. That would be easiest to fund and there is a Santee Cooper power line that the path can fit under. But some property owners want to be paid to grant an easement to the bike path, something the committee and Georgetown County fear would set a costly precedent.

The 3 miles along Kings River Road from Waverly Road south to Highway 17 got the most votes in a survey Bike the Neck conducted at the opening of the new phase. That was skewed by votes from Coastal Montessori Charter School students, staff and families who would like the path to connect with its new campus between Hagley and Allston Plantation, Ketron said.

She estimated that project would take 10 years because of drainage and wetland crossings. Those would also make it expensive and, because the route would parallel the existing path along Highway 17 it would be hard to get state funds, said Mark Hoeweler, senior staff member for the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study, which allocates those funds. “GSATS doesn’t want to duplicate routes,” he said.

Bike the Neck’s goal remains a route that runs the length of Waccamaw Neck. The option that would fulfill that would take the path 7 miles south from the South Causeway along Highway 17 to connect with the Santee Cooper power line that runs to Hobcaw Barony. That’s the option Ketron prefers, but she acknowledges it’s also an expensive one. But the state-owned utility has agreed to clear, fill and compact an area for the path under its power line, she noted.

“It truly is a nature trail,” she said, and would be likely to qualify for funds from the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism as well as the Department of Transportation.

The fourth option is a path along Petigru Drive from Martin Luther King Road to Stables Park with bike lanes on Petigru between Martin Luther King and Waverly. “The park would be a good community project,” said Gwen Heusel, a committee member. Ketron believes it would attract money from local donors, such as Tidelands Health, formerly Georgetown Hospital System, that told her it wants to get involved as a way to promote fitness.

The next round of funding through GSATS won’t come until 2020, and county capital funds are committed to other projects, said Paul Battaglino, the county’s capital projects coordinator. So Bike the Neck will keep its options open. “It feels like it makes sense to work on a couple of smaller phases,” Ketron said.

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