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Murrells Inlet: County takeover would add options for Business 17

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

State DOT Commissioner Mike Wooten says improvements to bike lanes and the addition of pedestrian crosswalks on Business 17 are possible if Georgetown County will take over responsibility for the road.

He was scheduled to outline the proposals at a community Chowder Talk last night sponsored by Murrells Inlet 2020.

Improved bike and pedestrian lane safety and maintenance along Business 17 were among the top goals that came to light in a survey done by Murrells Inlet 2020. The 4-foot-wide bike lanes on each side of the 4-mile stretch from Carson Avenue south to the bike bridge leading to Huntington Beach State Park are often covered in sand and gravel and have pot holes and broken edges. The Bike the Neck group that has organized the creation of bike routes along Waccamaw Neck is working to improve maintenance of the path and the inlet bike lanes.

Some Murrells Inlet residents would like the bike lanes consolidated into an 8-foot-wide lane on the west side of the highway that is separated from the travel lanes by a rumble strip and defined by an outside stripe. That would only be possible if the county would agree to take over maintenance of the road, Wooten said.

Business 17 is a federal highway and the wider path does not meet federal guidelines.

“I’ve been working with federal and state highway administrators on the county taking over,” Wooten said, “so they can do what they want. The upside is they can move the road over and have a wide bike and pedestrian lane and crosswalks. The downside is the loss of federal and state funds and they couldn’t call it U.S. 17 Business any more. The road would have to be renamed.”

It already has a second name: Mickey Spillane Waterfront 17 Highway. The road was named in honor of the writer in 2011.

Wooten said changing Business 17 would have to be a community and county decision. “I’m just alerting them to the possibility and letting them know what the positives and negatives are,” he said.

State and federal highway money has become so unpredictable, the county may eventually have to spend its money to repave the road anyway. A number of state-maintained roads are due to be repaved with proceeds from a 1-cent sales tax over the next few years. Horry County residents have approved taxes for three rounds of road building rather than wait on state and federal funding.

Myrtle Beach took over a 2-mile segment of Business 17 and renamed it Ocean Highway, and Coastal Carolina University did the same with University Boulevard.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Georgetown County Council Member John Thomas. “It would be something that the county would want to look into. I’m not sure I could convince the rest of the council or the administrator to take it over, but we haven’t really talked about it. I think it’s within the realm of possibility.”

Jerry Oakley, a former council member, said Business 17 is essentially a local roadway. “Local control of local roadways is good policy,” Oakley said. “Obviously there must be an accompanying maintenance funding mechanism.”

The bike path through Murrells Inlet would get more use if plans develop for a path from the Waccamaw River at Wacca Wache Marina along Wachesaw Road to Old Kings Highway, crossing Bypass 17 north of Waccamaw Community Hospital and extending to Business 17. The path, estimated at $2 million, would be called Tidelands Health Way.

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