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DOT waits for county decision on median cut

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The S.C. Department of Transportation will bow to Georgetown County’s wishes regarding a proposed median cut in Murrells Inlet.

But first it wants County Council to pass a resolution clearly stating what those wishes are.

“I’m not sure why, but that’s the word now,” said state Sen. Ray Cleary. “The ball is in [council’s] court.”

At the request of County Council Member Jerry Oakley, Cleary forwarded a message last month to DOT from Boyd Johnson, the county planning director. The letter stated the median cut isn’t needed and violates access management standards the county adopted in 2004 to help minimize traffic congestion.

The standards require that medians on Highway 17 be at least 2,640 feet apart. The proposed median cut, on Bypass 17 in front of Woodside Village, would fail to meet those standards by about 1,880 feet.

When Cleary called DOT last week to follow up about the letter, he said he was told DOT has final say about whether the cut could be installed and the county’s access management standards wouldn’t affect that.

“They basically said, ‘we know what [the letter] says, but DOT’s decision trumps the county’s plans,’ ” Cleary said.

A call he received from the department on Tuesday, however, professed it will defer to the county’s standards, but only if a resolution is received from County Council stating it doesn’t want the median cut.

“It’s the story that never ends,” Cleary said.

Upon learning of this latest chapter, Oakley was surprised.

“I thought we covered that with the letter from Boyd Johnson,” he said. “That stated unequivocally that the proposed median cut does not comply with the access management standards on Highway 17, which Georgetown County developed in coordination with DOT.

“I thought that would have covered it,” Oakley said, “but the senator now tells us we need a more formal declaration.”

Council hasn’t had a chance to talk over the situation, he said.

“We’ll review it and go from there, but my point of view is still that the median cut is not a good idea, it’s not good traffic planning and it’s proposed in the same precise location where DOT said four years ago it wouldn’t allow a median cut,” Oakley said.

The proposed cut has been a hot button issue since the County Transportation Committee approved $85,000 for the project in June at the request of Sen. Yancey McGill of Kingstree, on the behalf of Palmetto Heritage Bank. The bank is building a branch on the east side of Bypass 17, south of Bellamy Avenue.

At the committee’s July meeting, members were told state law requires the funds they expend to be used in furtherance of a county-wide transportation plan adopted by the committee. But committee members and county staff said they hadn’t seen the plan and didn’t know where to find one.

Committee members said they had also been unaware the median cut violated county standards.

The committee is appointed by the county’s legislative delegation and when the delegation next meets, Cleary said he intends to introduce measures to ensure another situation like this one doesn’t crop up.

“It’s unfortunate this has happened, and there are some specific amendments I want to impose as to how the CTC operates, so this doesn’t occur again,” Cleary said. “The CTC and the county planning department need to have a better relationship and I will make sure that happens from now on.”

The delegation has taken heat over the committee’s approval of the project, but Cleary said neither delegation members nor committee members are at fault.

He blames the situation on a breakdown in communication that includes county staff.

Cleary said he wants to make the committee’s approval of projects a two-step process. The first step will require the committee to inform the planning department about the project and ensure it doesn’t conflict with the county’s standards or long-term plans.

The second step will require the committee to inform delegation members.

“Before we get blamed for it, we need to know what’s going on,” Clearly said.

The delegation’s next meeting has not been scheduled.

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