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Median cut critic gets pledge for traffic light

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

After two months spent fighting a proposed median cut on Bypass 17 for a new bank, Melody Owens got a commitment this week from Georgetown County’s state legislators for help with a traffic light near her home.

Owens began lobbying for a stop light on Bypass 17 at Pendergrass Avenue after she witnessed a fatal accident in January. She was turned down by the state Department of Transportation, citing low traffic counts.

She told lawmakers this week she was “hurt” when she learned state Sen. Yancey McGill helped get a median cut approved for Palmetto Heritage Bank, and got $85,000 toward that project from the County Transportation Committee.

After questioning the committee’s decision and McGill’s role, she was told they would “do all they could as a group” to get the light, no matter how long it takes.

Along with the pledge of support, the delegation agreed to ask the transportation committee to change the way it works.

What the committee didn’t know at the time the cut was approved was that it violates the county’s access management standards. County staff that assists the committee didn’t mention the standards.

“There was a communication failure,” said state Sen. Ray Cleary. “It’s disappointing to me that even the people who represented the county were not aware of the county’s plans.”

He hopes action the delegation took this week will prevent such failures in the future, he said.

At the committee’s next meeting, members will be asked to come up with a plan for developing a system in which the state Department of Transportation and the county planning department would be made aware of projects approved for funding.

“Before they approve any project, we want to make sure everybody is on the same page,” Cleary said.

The recommendation is to be considered by the delegation at its next meeting. That should take care of any duplication or nonconformity issues with projects the committee funds, Cleary said.

But it won’t solve the current problem with the median cut.

Standards the county adopted in 2004 to reduce traffic congestion require that medians on Highway 17 be at least 2,640 feet apart. The proposed median cut would fail to meet those standards by about 1,880 feet, according to Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.

DOT was notified of that in a letter from Johnson.

Those standards don’t prohibit DOT from installing the median cut, but officials told Cleary in August they would be willing to scrap the project if it’s what the county wants. But first they want County Council to make a resolution stating it doesn’t want the cut.

“If there’s no resolution, my assumption is we will see the median cut,” Cleary said.

Council hasn’t discussed a resolution and doesn’t seem likely to.

“This is a DOT issue,” said Council Member Jerry Oakley. “Why should the county need to again state the obvious? The proposed median cut is not in the approved county master transportation plan and, according to DOT regulations, is therefore not eligible for funding by the CTC.”

At a meeting in July, committee members said they hadn’t seen the plan. A copy provided by DOT shows the two-page plan, adopted in 1999, merely outlines how the committee works in using state funds to improve secondary roads in the county. It calls for cooperation with the county, DOT and the regional transportation study committee.

Owens asked the committee in June and again Monday to reconsider their decision.

Woodrow Doby, the committee chairman, referred Owens to DOT.

“I’ve contacted others and keep being told I need to come back to you,” Owens said. “I’m being told by everybody that it’s somebody else I need to go to.”

Owens said she’s happy the delegation has agreed to support her in her efforts for a traffic light.

“I just hope they can do something,” she said.

As to the median cut, she said she believes she has reached a dead end.

“I don’t know what else to do or who to talk to about it,” she said. “I just keep getting the run-around.”

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