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Litchfield Beach: Another delay in long quest for pedestrian path

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Construction of a pedestrian path along Litchfield Boulevard at the end of Sportsman Canal was hit with another delay this week.

The cost of the project has increased and Paul Battaglino, Georgetown County’s capital projects coordinator, plans to ask the County Transportation Committee to provide $50,000. But the committee didn’t have a quorum on Monday when it was supposed to hear his request. Committee members said the meeting would be rescheduled as soon as possible, but a date hadn’t been set as of Wednesday afternoon.

The Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association has been trying to get the path built since 2006 to make the area safer for walkers and cyclists.

The association hired an engineering firm to design the path and approved spending $8,750 to match a $35,000 S.C. Department of Transportation enhancement grant for the project. All the necessary permits had been obtained and the project was ready to go out for bid.

“We were almost there,” said Richard Smith, who is president of the association.

But then new requirements were put in place for projects receiving state highway funds and the county had to turn it over to the transportation department.

“DOT started all over again,” Battaglino said. “They did a whole new survey and everything.”

That took a year.

Then changes DOT made to the original plan double the cost of the project to about $88,000. In their version, the path is longer, and it’s 5 feet wide instead of 4. They also changed the surface material from asphalt to concrete.

“The county felt the changes were good; they were desired,” Battaglino said.

But the county didn’t have funds available to pay the difference in cost and DOT won’t bid the project without knowing there is enough to cover the full amount and any overrun.

Bids on recent projects have been coming in under budget, Battaglino said, but he is asking the county transportation committee for $50,000 “to be on the safe side.”

It’s possible the association would be willing to put up an addition $8,750 to provide a 25 percent match for the new cost of the project, Smith said, though he was careful to point out that he can’t speak for the board and a vote hasn’t taken place yet.

“I don’t think there would be any hesitancy,” he said.

While construction of the path is on hold, Litchfield Boulevard remains a hazard.

“There are a lot of pedestrians in that area,” Smith said. “Vacationers walk to restaurants or the beach store.”

It’s also a popular route for people walking to the beach from homes on Sportsman Drive.

The grassy area along the canal is “very narrow and uneven,” which leads cyclists and pedestrians, particularly those with strollers, to walk on the road instead, Smith said. Approaching cars can’t see people on the road until they’re at the curve, creating an extremely dangerous situation, he added.

Smith and Battaglino said they aren’t aware of any fatalities in the area, but a Waccamaw High School student was hit by a car while walking with friends along the shoulder of Litchfield Drive last year. The car went off the road between Sportsman Drive and the bridge over Clubhouse Creek. The teen was knocked into the march and another student was grazed by the car’s passenger-side mirror.

“We want people to have a safe way to go, so this project is very important to us,” Smith said. “We will get it done.”

It just seems it’s going to take longer than anyone expected.

Smith said the delays have been frustrating, but “probably more for the board” than for him personally.

“I’m used to dealing with the government and I understand how it works,” he said. “It’s one step forward and two steps back, especially in these times.”

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