HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – People in Horry County have been waiting for this day to come, and finally Wednesday it will be official. After years of waiting, the barriers come down and work will begin to finish Highway 31 and widen Highway 707.
Starting Wednesday, $342 million worth of road work projects kick off, so within the next few weeks, drivers can expect workers on Highway 707 marking where the road will be, and moving on to the main part of the utility line work.
Contractors expect to finish clearing out the trees by Spring 2014. Months later, in the Fall of 2014, the new Big Block Road intersection is expected to be finished, complete with a new traffic light, and turn lanes in all directions.
The actual widening construction will begin in 2014. When it comes to Highway 31, it's already cleared and ready to go. Construction will start near the end of 2013, or early 2014.
Documents show construction will begin on extending SC-31 in December, 2013.
"We'll have more of a definite timeline in the next three years over the construction part of it," said Horry County spokesperson Lisa Bourcier. "It will be similar like what we did at the Backgate. We're not going to allow anytime daytime closures - most of it will be done at night time."
The delays on the two projects have caused controversy. SCDOT 7th Congressional District Commissioner Mike Wooten said during the groundbreaking, SC-31 could've been finished by now.
"We would have been here two years ago and had 15 million more dollars to spend if not for the Coastal Conservation League and the Southern Environmental Law Center. I wish they would have had representatives here today so I could say that in front of them," Wooten said.
Office Manager for the North coast Coastal Conservation League Nancy Cave wasn't at the groundbreaking, but told WMBF News the delays in the projects wasn't to be blamed on the environmental groups.
"The terminus was changed on Highway 31. If you change a terminus, you have to make engineering redesigns , you have to modify your permits. What Mr. Wooten does not say, if that terminus had never been changed- Highway 31 would have been built years ago. The second reason the road was delayed was that the US Army Corp of Engineers found out that SCDOT's contractors had illegally filled wetlands when they were building phase 1 and phase 2 of highway 31," Cave said.
Wooten said he's concerned environmental groups will stall other road projects currently in the works.
"I guarantee you that we're gonna be battling that group every step of the way and I need everybody out here's support, including the press in that ,because we can't afford to take two years and spend millions of dollars battling over something that every citizen and every tourist coming to Horry County desperately needs," Wooten said.
Both construction projects are scheduled to finish in 2017. The official groundbreaking was Wednesday at 2 p.m. on the southern end of Highway 31 where it meets Highway 544.
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