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Bike the Neck: Grant will help close gap in path

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

While cyclists wait for completion of bike trails on Kings River and Waverly roads, Georgetown County applied last week for grant funding for another section of Bike the Neck.

A $100,000 grant from the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism is being sought for completion of a section of bikeway in North Litchfield that would connect trails running from the Horry County line through Huntington Beach State Park and from the south end of Lakeshore Drive to Willbrook Boulevard. The project was the subject of a public meeting this week that attracted about 20 people to the Waccamaw Higher Education Center.

If the connector is completed, it would create about 11 miles of uninterrupted, off-road bike path from Litchfield and through Murrells Inlet. But more importantly, it would resolve a major safety issue in North Litchfield.

Heading south, the existing pathway on Highway 17 ends at Trace Drive and cyclists are directed to take Trace to Windover Drive and then Lakeshore to get back on the path where it picks up at the end of Lakeshore.

The amount of bicycle and pedestrian traffic traveling that route is “phenomenal,” said Linda Ketron, who heads the Bike the Neck project and worked on the grant application with Paul Battaglino, capital projects coordinator for Georgetown County.

“Everybody knows sharing the road situations are not the safest,” Ketron said. “We’ve been really lucky so many years have gone by without a tragedy, but that fear always rises as we come up on the spring and summer tourist season. People don’t pay attention, don’t know what side of the road they’re supposed to be riding or walking on ... The people who live on Lakeshore just sort of hold their breath every time they pull out of their driveways, hoping they don’t hit somebody.”

The road is very narrow and has no shoulder, added Battaglino. “That’s the basis of this grant application. It’s not just a convenience; it’s something that’s essential.”

Rhea Carter lives on Lakeshore and said she constantly sees people riding or walking down the middle of the road, “and staying there.”

While there haven’t been any fatalities, there’s a near miss every day, said someone else from the audience.

The cost to complete the connector is estimated at about $144,000, but that could change depending on the cost to build a bridge over a wetlands area.

“That’s the big unknown,” Battaglino said.

A required 25 percent match for the grant and whatever the balance ends up being will be paid from the Bike the Neck contributions account, according to Battaglino. But that account doesn’t actually contain $44,000 to cover the remainder of the cost after the grant, Ketron was careful to point out. The account contains about $11,000. That means fund-raising efforts will have to be kicked up again.

There are some land bank funds approved for the Kings River Road project that could be used for this segment, but permission to use the funds in North Litchfield would have to be granted first from County Council. There are about $65,000 in land bank funds available and about $30,000 is needed for the Kings River Road project, according to Battaglino.

The bridge called for in the project could also cause problems because planners want to utilize as much of Santee Cooper’s right-of-way as possible, but the utility won’t allow any type of structure, including the boardwalk type structure envisioned for the bike path. Heavy trucks used to work on the power lines within the right-of-way could damage such a structure.

The county won’t find out until summer if it receives the grant, but “I think we stand a really good chance,” she said. Plans are to start pitching the project to property owners groups in hopes of garnering support, and Bike the Neck will also apply for accommodations tax funds. It has been about six years since it last applied for the funds, Ketron said.

Nancy Bracken suggested that offering sponsorships for foot-long sections of the path might be one effective way of raising funds.

“People like to buy a unit,” she said.

Meanwhile, work on the Kings River and Waverly sections of Bike the Neck are moving along, Battaglino said. Of 22 easement agreements needed from property owners along Kings River, 19 have been obtained.

The other three are taking a little longer, but Battaglino fully expects to get them, he said.

Funding for all three sections in that area are in place and fall is targeted for the start of construction.

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