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Highway 17: Pawleys median plans contain options for traffic lights

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A traffic light between the Pawleys Island Post Office and Lachicotte Drive — something area residents have long had on their wish list — is included on two of three proposals for a median project on Highway 17.

The project would replace paved medians between the North Causeway and Baskervill Drive with grassed medians. Maps showing three possibilities for where median breaks and traffic signals should be placed were unveiled at a public meeting last week at the Waccamaw Elementary School.

Options 1 and 2 include the stoplight in front of the post office. Option 1 also places a new stoplight at Parkersville Road, while Option 2 puts a new light between Hinnant Lane and Cannan Shore Road. Hinnant runs between Pastaria 811 and BB&T.

Option 3 calls for only one new traffic signal, between Tiller Drive and Centermarsh Lane.

“Every one is a little bit different in terms of how you get access to an individual property,” Rick Day said of the plans. He’s principal at Stantec, the firm hired to engineer the project.

At Parkersville Road, for example, with the stoplight in the first option, drivers can “turn left in, left out, do a U-turn or whatever they want to here,” Day explained.

However, in the second and third options, movement is restricted. Drivers can enter with a left or right turn in Option 2, but it’s right out only. In Option 3, it’s right in, right out.

“What the concepts basically do is try to make it a safer highway, because statistics show this route has really double the rate [of wrecks] as the standard highway of this type in South Carolina. All the research we have seen shows this median treatment will make it up to 50 percent safer.”

In constructing each alternative, “we looked at each property to make sure it’s the best balance for overall traffic flow and to make sure everyone is treated equally,” Day said. “You can do it a number of different ways, but we think we captured the best three ways.”

The meeting to unveil the plans attracted more than 70 people and the maps elicited mixed reactions from Waccamaw Neck residents.

“It’s worse than a disaster,” said Mickey Stikas, who owns commercial property along the project area.

Deceleration lanes are included in the plans, but the road along the project area isn’t wide enough for acceleration lanes to facilitate U-turns, too, and that will cause major problems, he predicts.

“They’re only using 16 feet of the right-of-way. They’ve got enough right-of-way to make it a 32-foot median and make these legitimate turnarounds with deceleration and acceleration lanes,” Stikas said. “At least with the center lane now, people can pull into the center lane and, as long as somebody is not blocking them, they can wait for traffic to break and accelerate into the lanes. People are going to have a short leash to go make a U-turn. They’re going to have to go directly out into traffic.”

Tom Stickler of Hagley voiced similar concerns.

“There are no acceleration lanes and I think that’s the big problem,” he said. “I mean, here you’ve got an intersection where they have people with a deceleration lane and a stack-up where they can wait to make a left turn across an intersection. But somebody coming out of here, if he wanted to go left couldn’t do it. He’d have to go right some distance and make a U-turn, but still in every case there is no acceleration lane for the U-turn, so they’re going to have to wait until both lanes are clear. And the way traffic works around here, that’s a rarity for both lanes to be free.”

On the other side of the scale, John and Sandy Berry of Rose Run look on the project with enthusiasm, whichever of the three designs is chosen.

“It’s going to be a big improvement from my point of view,” John said. “It would cause us a little inconvenience in having to go out the back of our community, but it’s worth it. There are a lot of older people trying to make a left out of our community and it’s pretty hazardous.”

Sandy recounted the story of one woman who was “very seriously” injured trying to cross from the Hammock Shops into Rose Run — a nearly straight shot.

“This will take that option away from people,” she said. She and John believe the highway will be safer after the project is complete, but they also like the project because it will make the area more attractive, particularly landscaped in a way similar to the medians in Litchfield.

“It’s so ‘blah’ across there, all the way from Litchfield to Food Lion. It’s really not a very pretty place,” Sandy said. “Everybody wants to go to Pawleys Island and see Pawleys Island, and it’s not very pretty because the only thing they see is 17.”

Rose Marie Fey and Jim Kennedy of Pawleys Place said they were impressed with the plans, and if the median is landscaped, they think it will look great. But so far, no one has signed on to plant and maintain the medians.

“That’s what I’m concerned about,” Fey said. “I’d like to see something like in Litchfield.”

She and Kennedy favor Options 1 and 2 because they include more traffic signals and easier access to Pawleys Place.

Delores Horn of Pawleys Place likes Option 3 because it includes the fewest stoplights.

“There are too many stoplights on Highway 17,” she said. “You’re driving along a major highway and then you have to stop, and you go a little further and you have to stop again. There should be a flow, and this man over here told me that there was a flow with the lights, but if you have people coming off from the side streets, that’s going to affect the light. I just prefer less lights.”

Rodney Thompson has a strong preference for Option 1 because of the traffic signal at Parkersville Road.

“It provides direct access to two historic churches in the area: Mount Zion and St. John AME, which are both over 100 years old and well established. The community there is also well established,” said Thompson, a member of St. John and of the Pawleys Island Civic Club. That option would also offer direct access to Parkersville Park, where a regional recreation center is under construction.

The churches and the club met with consultants working on the project and support Option 1, according to Thompson.

“I’ll be happy to see it completed,” he said.

Norman Reid lives in Parkersville and spent years fighting to get the recreation center in Parkersville built, but he isn’t in favor of the median project.

“I think I would leave it like it is, because it’s going to cause more problems than it fixes,” he said. He talked about how traffic was backed up on Highway 17 from Litchfield to Hagley last week with the first of the season’s tourists arriving for Easter weekend.

“Traffic was back to back and I don’t know if this is going to solve the problem,” he said. “We need an alternative route, maybe River Road or something to go to Georgetown.”

Sidewalks on Parkersville or Martin Luther King Road would be a better use of transportation funds than the median project “if you want to spend some money on something,” he added.

That won’t happen, interrupted Bob Mimms, owner of the Litchfield Beach Fish House. “Because it’s not in the perimeters of being able to get $2.5 million. This is set for a specific goal and it has to be spent for a specific thing. If we don’t get the money somebody else is going to get the money. That’s what these people are all about.

“This is not going to help our local people,” he added. “All they want to do is make it faster and easier for those people that are going from Wilmington to Savannah to get through here.”

He suggests a better solution to problems on Highway 17 is to “extend Highway 31 on the other side of the river and get these people off of our roads.”

Written comments on the three alternatives will be accepted until April 19. View plans online at gsats.org.

“We’re asking everybody what do you like about 1, 2 or 3, and don’t just tell me ‘I don’t like it;’ tell me why,” Day said.

Comments will be evaluated and Stantec will come back with a preferred plan, which could be one of the three already presented, or a hybrid of plans created based on public input.

Mail public comments along with contact information to: Leah Quattlebaum, S.C. Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 191, Columbia, S.C. 29202.

Once a preferred design is selected, an environmental document and preliminary design will be completed and made available to the public in late spring. Right-of-way acquisition will begin in the fall and construction is scheduled to start in the spring of 2014.

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