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Traffic: In median review, committee finds a plan is missing

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The group charged with spending state funds on local road projects wants to find out if their approval of $85,000 to create a median cut on Bypass 17 fits in with its county-wide plan.

But neither members nor staff for the County Transportation Committee have actually seen the plan.

The committees are established by state law to spend a portion of gasoline tax revenue, known as C-funds, on road improvements and maintenance. For Georgetown County, that is about $3 million a year.

“The funds expended must be approved by and used in furtherance of a county-wide transportation plan adopted by a county transportation committee,” the law states.

At a meeting this week, committee member Jay Hood asked for a copy of the plan after a Murrells Inlet resident asked the committee to reconsider its decision to fund a median cut in front of the Woodside Village shopping center.

Woodrow Doby, the chairman, said he didn’t have a copy, and asked if the staff had one.

“I haven’t seen it,” said Ray Funnye, the county’s Public Services director.

“I haven’t seen it,” said Richard Pope, the county maintenance engineer for the state Department of Transportation.

The law requires that the county transportation plan be approved by DOT.

“They’ve got to have it,” said Herbert Cooper, the C-fund administrator for DOT. “It’s kind of odd that they don’t know where it is.”

The committee approved funds for the median cut in June. It was requested by state Sen. Yancey McGill on behalf of Palmetto Heritage Bank, which is building a branch on the east side of Bypass 17, south of Bellamy Avenue.

The bank originally wanted a median cut in front of the branch, but DOT engineers said that location was too close to the Bellamy intersection.

With McGill’s help, the state secretary of transportation, Buck Limehouse, said the agency would approve a cut farther south.

But the Woodside Village location is at odds with Georgetown County’s rules that govern access to Highway 17. The proposed median cut is 1,880 feet too close to other cuts, according to Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.

Melody Owens, a Murrells Inlet resident who unsuccessfully lobbied DOT and local legislators for a traffic light on Bypass 17 at Pendergrass Avenue, asked the transportation committee to reconsider funding the project.

“This request is based on new and crucial information concerning this matter that was not available to the CTC at the time of the vote,” she said.

Owens said the request from McGill was improper because it was not supported by a vote of the four-member county legislative delegation. The state law allows the delegation to make recommendations, not individual members, Owens said.

She also cited a letter from Johnson that the median cut violates county standards.

“That information was never given to this committee,” said committee member David Britton.

Committee member Larry Young said he was concerned by reports that funds were approved in the regional transportation study to start closing median cuts.

“I hadn’t heard that,” Pope said.

“It seems like it would be a big waste of funds,” Young said.

Young, who was absent when the committee approved the funds in June, said the Woodside Village location didn’t make sense because the property on the east side of Bypass 17 is undeveloped.

“It’s beyond belief,” Owens said.

Ron Christmas, president of Palmetto Heritage, told the committee the bank relied on the decision to fund the median cut to start work on the $1.4 million branch.

The cut is estimated to cost $210,000. The bank and other area property owners have agreed to contribute $50,000.

“By putting in deceleration lanes you eliminate risk factors,” Christmas said. “The state has found it to be safe.”

He said other members of the bank’s board wanted to build a branch in Bluffton, but he argued for Murrells Inlet.

“We went to a lot of time and effort,” Christmas told the committee. “We probably wouldn’t have built this project.”

The committee took no action on Owens’ request.

“We allocate money,” Doby said. “SCDOT makes the final decision on what’s going to be done.”

But Britton said after the meeting he expects to continue discussion of the median cut.

“This isn’t over yet,” he said. “It’s a lot of money.”

As for the transportation plan, Cooper, the C-fund administrator, said he planned to talk with Doby to see if it can be found.

“I’m pretty sure they adopted it,” Cooper said. “I would be shocked if there was no plan somewhere.”

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