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Traffic: Bypass 17 median cut has senator on each side

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A proposed median cut in front of Woodside Village would increase congestion on Bypass 17, according to Boyd Johnson, the Georgetown County planning director.

The crossover, which would include left turn lanes, doesn’t meet the county’s access management standards, which are intended to help minimize congestion.

“That tells me there is a problem,” Johnson said.

The retail complex is home to Piggly Wiggly and is currently restricted to right-in, right-out access on Bypass 17, a system Johnson said works well.

If a median cut is added, “from a zoning perspective, you could still say it has to be right-in, right-out, but once a cut in the median is put in, what keeps that person who is now physically able to make that left turn from doing it?” he said.

The County Transportation Committee agreed last week to spend $85,000 on the crossover at the request of state Sen. Yancey McGill. Jay Hood, the committee member from Murrells Inlet, was opposed.

The committee is appointed by the county legislative delegation.

The proposed median cut was requested by Ron Christmas, vice chairman and CFO of Palmetto Heritage Bank and Trust, which plans to build a branch on Bypass 17. He approached McGill, whose district includes the western portion of Georgetown County, for a median cut to provide access to the branch.

Christmas told McGill the bank, a dentist and a church would contribute $50,000 toward the cost of the $210,000 project.

The median cut Palmetto Heritage originally requested was closer to the traffic light at Bellamy Drive. It was rejected by the state Department of Transportation. State Transportation Secretary Buck Limehouse suggested to McGill that the cut be moved farther south to align with Woodside Village. Though it wouldn’t allow for direct access to the businesses, it would allow southbound traffic to make U-turns, Limehouse said.

County Council Member Jerry Oakley said he has concerns with the plan.

“Back in 2004 when the Woodside Village plan was being considered, SCDOT would not allow a median cut at that point, probably for good reason,” he said. “I understand the situation, but congestion on Highway 17 is probably the No. 1 complaint I hear. I hope DOT would be very careful about doing something that would worsen a problem we’re trying to fix.”

Melody Owens, who lives in Captain’s Cove, has a different concern. Since January, she has been fighting to get a traffic light installed on the bypass at Pendergrass Road. DOT installed flashing caution lights last month, but said the traffic count isn’t high enough to merit a stop light.

Owens said she is bothered by the legislative delegation’s role in getting the crossover approved.

“I’m frustrated and angry,” she said. “Every politician we’ve talked to has said ‘this is not a political thing, it’s a S.C. law thing and they can’t influence DOT’s decisions. But it looks like that’s what happened. It’s another example of how it’s a different world for the little people and the big money people.”

In McGill’s letter to the committee, he said he was acting on behalf of the delegation, but state Sen. Ray Cleary, who lives in Murrells Inlet, said he is not in favor of a median cut and the issue was never discussed at a delegation meeting. Cleary said he recommended Hood vote against the proposal.

Cleary said he also sent a letter to Limehouse saying if DOT goes forward with the cut, it will be “solely responsible for all safety issues that result from it.”

McGill said he believed all the delegation members were in support of the plan and regularly sends out letters on behalf of the delegation for traffic improvements.

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