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Traffic: Median: Inlet cuts, Pawleys gets fill

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

While State Sen. Yancey McGill is trying to drum up $211,000 for a median cut on Bypass 17, the group that sets priorities for regional transportation projects is planning to spend $2.5 million to close up medians on Highway 17 in Pawleys Island.

At some point, the two may collide.

From Martin Luther King Boulevard to the North Causeway, the dual median known to locals as the suicide lane will be replaced with designated left turn lanes. The project is intended to improve safety and aesthetics along the highway.

“There will be more greenery and less impervious surface,” said Mark Hoeweler, planning director for the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments.

The funding is targeted for 2012 and plans are for the project to eventually include all of Highway 17 on Waccamaw Neck.

The proposed median cut in Murrells Inlet doesn’t fit that plan. When the plan was being considered last week, questions were raised about whether the crossover would have to be taken back out once median work reaches Murrells Inlet.

The cut proposed in front of the Woodside Village shopping center, which houses Piggly Wiggly, does not meet county standards for highway access, which are intended to help minimize traffic congestion. The center only has a right-in, right-out access on the highway.

The median cut is the result of a request by Palmetto Heritage Bank, which is building a branch on the east side of the highway. It offered to pay $50,000 on the project.

The crossover has the OK of the S.C. Secretary of Transportation H.B. “Buck” Limehouse Jr., the result of a request from McGill, of Kingstree.

It also has $85,000 from the County Transportation Committee. The committee, appointed by the county’s legislative delegation, spends the county’s portion of funds from the state gasoline sales tax and is not affiliated with County Council’s transportation committee, which spends money from the county’s road user fees.

The committee approved the funds June 1 at McGill’s urging.

“This is a good example of folks getting involved in something they didn’t understand,” said County Council Member Glen O’Connell, who sits on council’s transportation committee. “It’s an incredible example of things run amok, and I’m hopeful we will be able to clean this up, make some sense of it and put a stop to it.”

But officials seem to be in disagreement about what can be done to stop the project now.

O’Connell believes the matter needs to be addressed on a state level.

“I think you have to deal with the people that created the mess,” O’Connell said.

State Sen. Ray Cleary believes it’s a county issue. He wrote to Limehouse, explaining there was “no pressure” from him to install the median cut, and if it was installed and caused safety issues, the Department of Transportation would be responsible.

“At this point I assume it’s in the hands of SCDOT and county officials,” Cleary said. If the county writes a letter opposing the project, Cleary said he’ll pass it along to DOT.

The issue should be a county issue, but has to be addressed at the state level, “because they’ve taken control of all of this from us,” said Council Member Jerry Oakley. The transportation committee fell under council’s control until about two years ago.

Hoeweler said the S.C. Department of Transportation often defers to local jurisdictions when they have a policy that’s more restrictive than the state’s.

But that’s not a given.

“The county could have all kinds of ordinances. As long as people meet our guidelines with what they’re doing, that’s what we’re looking at,” said Dennis Townsend, engineering administrator with SCDOT.

Oakley said the median shouldn’t have been eligible to receive funding from the committee in the first place, because the project is not part of the transportation plan adopted by the committee.

The action, in his opinion, was a violation of code, because, while the delegation can recommend projects outside the plan for funding, that doesn’t appear to be the case in this instance.

In McGill’s letter to the committee, he stated he was writing on behalf of the delegation, but delegation members agree there was never a formal vote to endorse the project. McGill said he made the request on behalf of the delegation because he had spoken with the other members and believed they were in favor of the project.

“This was done in a manner in which I have a lot of trouble with,” O’Connell said. “I have some real questions about the role of the delegation and how they went about it. We were not well represented by our delegation. They let the community down.”

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