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Highway 17: Median coalition says it has a safer, cheaper plan

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Opponents of a project that will eliminate the paved median on Highway 17 in the Pawleys Island area say their alternative will be safer, more attractive and less expensive than a plan being implemented by state and local government. They expect to make the plan public this month.

Construction is due to start next year on a $3.75 million project to install a raised median on 1.9 miles of highway between Baskervill Drive and Waverly Road. There will be two new traffic signals and breaks to allow left turns and U turns. It has drawn opposition from business owners who say the project will reduce access for customers.

Opponents began meeting with county and state officials over a year ago in an effort to make changes in the median plan. So far, none have occurred.

That didn’t stop Steve Goggans, an organizer of the Citizens Coalition for Ocean Highway, from making another plea to the intergovernmental panel that reviews regional road projects. He asked the Grand Strand Regional Transportation Study policy committee last week for the opportunity to present an alternate plan and have it reviewed by “an independent group.”

“We’ll be happy to provide the details,” he said.

The committee also heard from Georgetown County Council Member Bob Anderson, whose district includes the project area. He reminded the members, who represent local and state government, that the comment period on the median project closed in May 2012. He didn’t hear from the opponents until three months later.

Anderson said he’s satisfied with the work done by the state Department of Transportation and its consultant, Stantec, in designing the project. So is the rest of the County Council.

“We stand on our position that this project is a good project,” he said.

“I would just second that,” said Council Member Jerry Oakley, who represents the county on the policy committee. That was the only comment offered.

Mike Wooten, who represents the 7th Congressional District on the state highway commission, said afterward that DOT hasn’t changed its position on the project either. “To DOT, it’s about traffic flow,” he said.

There are three options for keeping traffic on Highway 17 moving through the Waccamaw Neck. The first is a bypass route that follows Highway 701 north of Georgetown and crosses the Waccamaw River at a proposed bridge in Horry County. “That’s the most expensive,” Wooten said.

Highway 17 could also be widened to six lanes through the Pawleys Island area. That idea doesn’t have any local support, he said.

That leaves the median project, which will reduce the “friction” on through traffic caused by vehicles turning across traffic, Wooten said.

As to the claim of a safer, cheaper alternative, Wooten asked, “has anyone seen the plan?”

Goggans said the concept is the same one the coalition has proposed since this summer, which was prepared by its own traffic engineer. It calls for shifting the location of the proposed traffic lights and creating additional breaks in the median. The DOT plan has 20 median breaks: nine on the southbound side, 11 northbound.

“We’ve almost finished costing it,” Goggans said this week. “I can promise you it would be less money.”

The coalition is awaiting information from the state Department of Public Safety on traffic accidents in the project area. It sent a request for the data under the Freedom of Information Act for about 200 reports that DOT says were taken in the area along with a check for $1,300. Goggans said Public Safety then told the coalition they had to break down the request into smaller components for processing. It now has 20 requests pending.

“We think it’s going to be illuminating,” Goggans said. “We think most [accidents] are caused by entering or leaving the highway” rather than from the median.

The coalition doesn’t want to halt the median project, Goggans said, just make changes.

The project will be the subject of the annual meeting of the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners Associations next week. Along with Anderson, Oakley and Wooten, speakers will include Mark Hoeweler from Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments and Rick Day from Stantec. It takes place Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Litchfield By the Sea beach club.

Goggans met with the POA council board and asked for the chance to make a presentation at the annual meeting. He was denied, he said.

But Goggans followed up this week with a request that the council, which is comprised of representatives of homeowners associations, endorse the coalition’s call for a study committee for the median plan.

“Everywhere we go, we gain support,” Goggans said. “We think our plan is as good as their plan.”

The coalition is also planning a rally and fundraiser next month at Caledonia Golf and Fish Club. It will include entertainment, food and drinks sponsored by some of the 165 area businesses that oppose the DOT plan for the median. Funds raised will be used for the coalition’s legal expenses.

Tickets are $20 in advance at [E-Mail Article To a Friend]

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