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Highway 17: Wrecks in Pawleys area exceed state average, engineers say

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

In the last five years, there have been about twice as many wrecks on Highway 17 in Pawleys Island as would be expected on a comparable South Carolina roadway.

That’s according to an evaluation by the S.C. Department of Transportation’s safety office, said Rick Day. He’s head of Stantec, the firm hired to engineer a project that would get rid of the two-way left turn lane on Highway 17 between the North Causeway and Baskervill Drive. It would be replaced with a grass median, similar to that in Litchfield.

Engineers didn’t have the information from DOT on hand last month when a public input meeting for the project took place, but they made sure it was available for a series of private follow-up meetings over the last few days. Engineers met one-on-one with residents and business owners interested in the project, as well as groups of property owners, to discuss individual concerns and answer questions that weren’t answered at the previous meeting. A big one was about the number of accidents on Highway 17.

From 2007 through most of 2011, there were 203 wrecks on the 1.9-mile segment of highway under discussion, Day said.

“That’s about 3.5 a month, or just under one a week, if you want to look at it that way,” he said. Out of every 3.5 wrecks, one caused injury to one or more people.

“It’s not so much about the median, but also congestion and the turning movement conflicts that are out there,” Bret Gillis, project manager, said of the high number of wrecks. “Some of that is the median, but some of them, if we didn’t have the median, would still be there. If you’re trying to take a left off of one of the 25 side streets, with exception of the two signaled ones, it’s hard to do.”

Having a grassed median with breaks in carefully chosen spots would make that easier and safer for drivers, while also improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

At the meeting last month, Day reported an average of 29,000 vehicles a day travel Highway 17 in Pawleys Island. In the summer that jumps to 38,000. A paved median isn’t recommended for roads that carry more than 24,000 vehicles a day.

As with last month’s meeting, attended by 66 people, engineers got mixed reactions at the follow-up meetings.

“Some were concerned about drivers having to make a U-turn to get to their business and some said ‘please do something, it’s horrible and anything is better than what we’ve got,’ ” Day said.

Engineers met Friday with seven people to talk over concerns. They were back at it on Monday, when they met with 28 people in small groups.

That was supposed to be the end of the follow-up meetings, but a few more are in the works with people who weren’t available for the two days set aside.

Not all of those who asked for follow-up meetings have property along the part of the highway where the project will take place, but travel it frequently.

In addition to the meetings, DOT has been accepting written comments on the project. The cutoff to submit those was this week. Stantec expects to receive those soon and will combine them with comments recorded in all the meetings.

From there, engineers will “draw up a few concepts of how it would look,” including proposed locations for median breaks. Once that has been done, the plans will be presented to the public in another input meeting.

It’s the placement of the median breaks, say a number of area residents and business owners, that will ultimately determine their opinion of the project.

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