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Highway 17: Engineers count traffic looking for site of new signal

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The intersection of Highway 17 and Parkersville Road is a likely location for future installation of a traffic light, according to Mark Hoeweler, assistant executive director for the agency in charge of the area’s transportation planning.

The intersection is just north of a Fresh Market grocery store that opened this week, adding more traffic to an already busy area.

Developers wanted a light in front of the new store, but were turned down. Hoeweler said he doesn’t expect a “mid-block light that serves one use” will ever be approved in that area. But a light at Parkersville Road is a possibility.

Traffic counts will be conducted at driveways on Highway 17 next year to see which have the highest traffic volume, said Chris Clark, a transportation planner with the agency, Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments.

The counts will help determine where a traffic light will be most needed in the future, as well as where median breaks will be installed when the paved median on Highway 17 is filled in from the North Causeway to Martin Luther King Road. That work is due to be complete in 2013.

The $2.5 million median project and the light were among transportation topics Hoeweler and Clark addressed this week at a meeting of the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners Associations. About 35 people attended.

The median project will replace the asphalt with grass and landscaping similar to that seen in Litchfield and on Highway 17 near Hagley.

“It’s sort of a pilot project,” Hoeweler said.

If it’s successful, medians between the North Causeway and the Waccamaw River bridge will also be filled.

“That’s the best section to try it on, because there’s not a lot of driveway clutter like in Pawleys between the causeways or up in Murrells Inlet,” Hoeweler told the group.

He cited a Georgia Tech study that shows defined median cuts create safer conditions for drivers. Though the change won’t necessarily reduce the number of accidents, he added, motorists will have different kinds of wrecks after medians are filled in. That statement drew some derogatory laughter, but Hoeweler explained that’s more of an improvement than it sounds like.

“You’re trading the serious kind of accident for fender benders,” he said. “You’re trading in the kinds of accidents where somebody dies.”

The downside is it might become less convenient to reach some destinations. There won’t be a median break at every driveway, so motorists might have to pass their destination and make a U-turn. However, “big destinations,” such as The Fresh Market, will have their own turn bays.

Another proposed change is the realignment of the Litchfield Country Club entrance with a stop light at the intersection of Highway 17 and Litchfield Drive.

“I think it’s a viable project,” Clark said. But it will take cooperation from the county and property owners at the country club to make it happen.

“If they drive a hard bargain, we’ll probably move on to another project,” Hoeweler said. “I can’t promise anything now.”

It was the county that asked that the project be added to the list. It’s still in the early stages of planning.

One resident said she’d be happy with an additional traffic light at the existing entrance rather than realignment. She suggested a setup similar to that in front of Inlet Square Mall, with two traffic lights just yards apart.

Clark shook his head. The lights in front of the mall create a dangerous situation as drivers are sometimes confused about which signal to obey.

“That’s something we’ve been trying to get rid of for years,” Clark said, adding that he’s among those who have been involved in a wreck at that spot. “It’s not a situation we hope to ever replicate.”

Bo Long, the POA council president, complained that people turning in to the country club block the median for people coming out and it needs to be made clearer that the median has to accommodate traffic going both ways.

“A little paint might do it, but I think you’re going to have to put in some concrete,” he said.

Several realignment projects on the transportation plan have recently been completed, including realignment of the intersection of Highway 17 and Sandy Island Road, and the five-way intersection where Kings River, Hagley and Tyson Roads meet.

The complete list of short-term and long-term projects on the area transportation plan is available online at gsats.org.

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