Myrtle Beach, SC, is too popular for its own good.
More than 10 million visitors travel to it each year for coastal recreation or golf. In fact, it is the second most popular golfing Mecca in the country. By the turn of the century, Myrtle Beach ranked second in the U.S. in per capita housing construction and had become a major retirement center.
Needless to say, all these tourists and retirees are congesting the roadways that lace Horry County as well as Georgetown County to the south of Horry.
The Grand Strand, which takes its name from 60 miles of sandy Atlantic Ocean beaches, was threatening to turn adjacent highways into a grand standstill.
But Myrtle Beach-area officials and South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) officials saw the gridlock coming. They believe they are building a solution. It is called Carolina Bays Parkway, the second phase of which is well under way between two east-west roadways that connect the state’s Lowcountry to inland population centers.
Extending 4.6 mi. (7.4 km) from U.S. Rt. 501 southward to S.C. Rt. 544, the six-lane limited-access highway bellies away from the region’s Intrascoastal Waterway to let north-south travelers on U.S. 17 skirt the beach and golf scene. Land nearer the ocean between the waterway and the coast already was home to U.S. 17 and the U.S. 17 Bypass. Commercial and residential development precluded building another major trafficway in that slice of coastal region.
So the Parkway is being built farther west, yet it still traverses a sensitive area, environmentally speaking. The project has immediate impact on more than 220 acres (88 ha) of wetlands. The consortium of companies that took on the design-build project did so with the understanding that they were to disturb the existing ecology as little as possible during construction activity.
“This is an important eco-system to this area. We are doing a lot of work to protect the area and the future of the area,” said Robert Edwards, assistant project manager of APAC Inc. of Atlanta. As of August, with just a few months left in the 18-month project, “no violations or infractions of any kind” have been lodged against the builders, Edwards noted.
APAC chose partners that could help it preserve environmental integrity.
These included South Carolina engineering firms LPA Group and Wilbur Smith Associates, Buffington and Smith, R.E. Goodson Construction Co. of Darlington, SC, and United Contractors of Chester, SC.
SCDOT purchased right-of-way for the Parkway that tends to follow a sandy ridge. Still, the roadbed needed more building up so Goodson hauled in some 2.3 million cu. yds. (1.75 million cu m) of dirt from three borrow pits located farther inland. The borrowed earth was trucked to the path of the new roadbed by Caterpillar D-400 off-road carriers.
Hauling was confined to the corridor of the roadway itself whenever possible to reduce the chance of noise and refuse degrading the area adjacent to the new road.
Ninety-eight percent of equipment employed by Goodson on the job was Caterpillar, Goodson said. That included 245 excavators, D-6 and D-7 dozers fitted with global positioning system technology and 14D motor graders.
In moving all that earth, the contractor uncovered no surprises, said Goodson, the project manager and chief estimator for the family firm that dates back to 1945.
The company, which incorporated in 1956, at one time focused on building golf courses –– a staple for contractors around Myrtle Beach, which boasts at least 100 courses. But highway work has dominated its contracts for several years now. For instance, it built approximately one quarter of the 20 mi. (32 ha) in Phase 1 of the Carolina Bays project.
The earth-moving company was wrapping up its work on Phase 2 in early August when Tropical Storm Bonnie and Hurricane Charley blew past. Some repair of rainfall-eroded areas was necessary afterward.
“The hurricane certainly had an impact,” APAC’s Edwards said. “We are still trying to identify what was damaged. It was a substantial amount of rain and there was lots of erosion.”
Less hurricane damage was done to the two major interchanges. They are being constructed by United Contractors where the Parkway crosses routes 501 and 544. The interchanges account for $8.5 million of the $54 million contract.
Where the roadway crosses Rt. 501, three bridges are going up. A few miles south, where Rt. 544 connects, two more bridges are being built. Work is proceeding concurrently on all five bridges.
The longest bridge is about 350 ft. (106 m) long. Placed end to end, all of the bridges would stretch for about 1,300 ft. (394 m).
Individual spans range from 60 ft. (18 m) on up to 125 ft. (28 m).
Pre-cast concrete beams rest on poured columns and drill-shaft foundations.
The beams will carry an estimated 81,000 sq. ft. (7,290 sq m) of concrete decking.
Decks on the three bridges at the 501 intersection were three-quarters poured by mid-August. Decking is 8.5 in. (21.6 cm) thick. Deck grooving and jointing was proceeding at that point and barrier rails were being raised.
One of the 544 bridges, meanwhile, was scheduled to get its deck within the following week. Spans were still being placed on the other bridge at that intersection. Each bridge is 100 ft. (30 m) wide and about 230 ft. (70 m) long.
APAC is supplying concrete for poured-on-site elements of the project.
Building an interchange across an existing highway is recipe for delay if not disaster. However, United has avoided major tie-ups.
“We’re trying to do the work in a way that minimizes impact on traffic,” said United’s construction manager, Bill Hedgpath. Hedgpath brings experience to the task, having been involved in United projects for 26 years. He is a company vice president.
United is completing about 10 percent of its work at night, when traffic is less, so that lane closures and lane shifts are kept to a minimum. Hedgpath and an associate also rigged several different kinds of “man baskets” so girder work could be accomplished while workmen were suspended above moving traffic.
Girders are being placed using Link-Belt LS-218 cranes as well as a 150-ton Link-Belt 238. A Tadano all-terrain truck crane also has been put to work there.
“The schedule has been tight, but we’re doing good work,” Hedgpath said of the pace at the interchanges. He credits his project superintendent, Jim Isgett, with keeping things moving.
When the bridges are completed –– sometime between now and early December when the job is scheduled to be done –– the Parkway itself will be ready, too. A cement-treated aggregate base and a finish course already have been laid along the path that was tamped and carved by Goodson. Final asphalt work is well along. APAC is supplying the asphalt, nearly 200,000 tons (180,000 t) of it.
The Carolina Bays Parkway is expected to relieve traffic congestion for years to come, once the final phase of the roadway is built from Rt. 544. That stretch of pavement will swing down and around to rejoin a southern leg of U.S. 17.
But the Parkway wouldn’t have happened at all had not two things come together.
One was funding. Several years ago, a Horry County development group identified highway improvement needs. It persuaded voters to approve a “hospitality fee” that generates local funding for future highway projects.
That local fund source eventually dovetailed with a state legislative initiative called an “infrastructure bank,” which also puts needed public projects on a fast track.
The other key to the project was the decision by the South Carolina Department of Transportation to buy Sandy Island, a coastal sand spit measuring 4 mi. (4.6 km) wide and 6 mi. (9.6 km) long. The ancient island located further south along the South Carolina coast had been identified by several groups as an island worthy of preserving as a historical and cultural attraction.
When a Parkway was proposed across wetlands in Horry County, SCDOT recognized a swap was possible. Buying the island let the Parkway be built through the wetlands, rather than over them, a much more expensive process, with the island becoming a mitigating offset for wetlands lost to construction.
It all worked and everyone soon will be happy, perhaps especially travelers wanting to bypass Myrtle Beach.