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Highway 17: Plan to raze Pawleys median raises concerns

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Waccamaw Neck residents are still debating the potential effects of a plan to close the paved median on Highway 17 in Pawleys Island and whether that’s the best use of $2.5 million in highway funds.

About a dozen people quizzed the project manager, Bret Gillis of Stantec Corp., on Wednesday about plans for the project and public comments received so far. Gillis was the speaker at a meeting of a concerned citizens group that gets together monthly at the Waccamaw Higher Education Center to discuss local issues.

The project also came up in the last week at meetings of the League of Women Voters and the Litchfield Corridor Beautification Committee.

The project will undoubtedly get an infusion of interest next month when the public will be handed new information to weigh. Designs showing the location of proposed median breaks for the project and new traffic signals will be presented at a public meeting April 5, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Waccamaw Elementary School.

“We’ll most likely have three different alternatives drawn up for them to look at,” said Rick Day, head of Stantec.

The firm will again be soliciting public input on the plans.

The April meeting will be less formal than the one held at the school in February, Day added. This one will be set up as a drop in.

A number of Waccamaw Neck residents have said their opinion on the project will hinge on the placement of median breaks and traffic signals. Some are vehemently opposed to the project regardless of where the breaks occur, while others embrace it with open arms.

“We’ve got that and everything in between,” Gillis told the group in Litchfield. “The feedback has been very mixed.

Bob Mimms, owner of the Litchfield Beach Fish House, is among those in the vehemently-opposed camp.

“I was here when we had the medians before, and it was a whole lot more dangerous then than it is now,” he said. That was about 20 years ago.

“We’re asking people to make U-turns and 90-degree turns exposing themselves broadside to traffic,” he said.

That makes navigating the highway more dangerous, Mimms said. He believes resources would be better spent looking at alternate routes to get some of the traffic off Highway 17.

Replacing the paved median with a grass median will improve safety on the highway, according to Stantec.

“We’ve got 25 intersections on a 1.9 mile stretch of roadway and an average of about 29,000 cards a day on it, and 39,000 a day during the summer,” Gillis said. Each of those intersections is a conflict point.

“Part of the design process is looking at all these conflict points and finding ways to reduce the number of conflict points, but at the same time, what you don’t want to do is make it harder to get on and off of 17,” Gillis said. “Because this is such a main artery of the coast, its kind of a balancing act. There are way too many cars to introduce a lot of stoplights, but maybe we can put up a couple to help with getting onto and off the highway.”

Though few, those signals would create gaps for vehicles at median breaks without stoplights.

Data from the state Department of Transportation shows there are about twice as many wrecks on Highway 17 in the project area as on comparable state roadways, and about one person a month is hurt in those wrecks.

“I was amazed when you came back with those findings,” Glenda Shoulette, a county Planning Commission member, told Gillis. The figures didn’t surprise him.

Presented with the figures, Mimms said he’s still skeptical.

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