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Economic development: Planning resumes on four-lane route to I-95
By Jason Lesley
Completion of the Andrews bypass, the next step in expanding Highway 521 to four lanes to Interstate 95, is back in the planning stages after sitting on the shelf for years.
Directors of the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments heard from traffic planners last week that over $50 million is being proposed in its Traffic Improvement Plan to extend the bypass loop from its western end to Highway 521 just west of the Agru America plant. The funding is proposed through the year 2030.
“We are showing that money is available to do the environmental work as well as the start of engineering and right-of-way acquisition,” said Mark Hoeweler, senior staff member for the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study.
The cost of Phase 2 of the Andrews bypass had an original price tag of around $25 million, the same as Phase 1. The state Department of Transportation has revised its estimates upward. “DOT,” Hoeweler said, “has come back and said, no, there’s going to be bridging and environmental impact.”
The Transportation Improvement Plan contains $2 million this fiscal year and $10 million next year for studying the environmental impact of a number of alternative routes, engineering and preliminary right-of-way acquisition. The original environmental studies done as part of Phase 1 are not considered current, Hoeweler said. “They are not taking anything for granted done in the first document,” he said. “They are reinvesting in alternative alignments for the second phase.” New public hearings on the proposed routes will be required once they are identified.
Members of the Waccamaw Regional board oversee road planning in Williamsburg County and rural parts of Georgetown and Horry and the spending of $3 million in federal funds per year. That money continues to be used to pay off the bonds for the first phase of the Andrews bypass.
Money coming through Waccamaw Regional for Highway 521 must be spent in Georgetown or Williamsburg counties. One 2-mile stretch, from the Greeleyville town limits to the Clarendon County line, was widened to four lanes with a small amount of money left from funds originally slated for the Andrews bypass.
Former Georgetown County Council Member Jerry Oakley is the newest member of the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments board. As a former member of the Grand Strand Regional Transportation Study policy committee, he is well versed in the region’s transportation needs. “To state the obvious,” Oakley said, “nothing is more important to economic development in Georgetown County than completion of a four-lane, bypass class highway from Georgetown to I-95. One of the most compelling comments I’ve heard in the past 20 years is that 80 percent of all new jobs are created within 20 miles of an interstate. That puts us with a big hill to climb. If we can get around Andrews with a bypass that is time-saving and easy to navigate for trucks, that’s a step in the right direction.”