Long-delayed Highway 31 project to get back underway

After a long delay, construction is set to begin soon on the extension of SC Highway 31 and widening of SC Highway 707.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation got the final go-ahead Friday to put both projects up for bid.

For close to two years, construction on the 31 extension has been stuck in neutral, while the DOT worked with the US Army Corps of Engineers on issues related to getting a water quality permit.

"We had to go out and do a lot of detailed field analyses, a lot of reporting, a lot of coordination with the Corps and that's the reason for the delay," said DOT project manager Mike Barbee.

SC 31, or the Carolina Bays Parkway, now ends at SC 544.

The extension will add 4.3 miles to bring the freeway up to SC 707 in Murrells Inlet.

The widening of 707 to four lanes is a separate project, but because the two projects are intertwined, both were delayed.

The associate pastor of the Beach Family Worship Center in Socastee drives the highly congested 707 every day. Widening it to four lanes, he says, will be a blessing.

"Anything that's going to save time, not get stuck behind a tractor or one of these big dump trucks out here, would be a great ease on my mind daily as I have to travel it," said Victor Boyd.

Work is scheduled to start on widening 707 in October and extending 31 in December. Both are set to be done in late 2016 or early 2017.

The 707 work is being paid for by the Riding on a Penny local sales tax. All of the Riding on a Penny road projects are required by law to be completed in a certain order, so the delay on 707 also held up several other projects, like the interchange of US Highway 17 and Glenns Bay Road.

"It was a frustrating process, but it was a process that we had to go through," said Horry County public information officer Lisa Bourcier. "I don't think anybody anticipated being such a long process delaying this up to 2 years."

Barbee says it's hard to tell whether the delay will increase the cost of the projects. He says some materials have gone up in price, while others have gone down.

Barbee says he's just anxious to finally get started.