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Highway 17: Median plan opponents focus on crash data

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

It took a year and cost $1,300, but opponents of a plan to eliminate the paved median on Highway 17 through the Pawleys Island business district say the data they received last week on traffic accidents in the area will support their call to redesign the project.

The data is now in the hands of a traffic engineer hired by the Citizens Coalition for Ocean Highway to draft an alternative to the state Department of Transportation plan to install a raised median between Baskervill Drive and Waverly Road to restrict left turns. Coalition members say their alternative will be safer and cheaper than the $3.75 million state project.

The accident data is a crucial part of the project because improved safety is one of its goals. Coalition members asked for the data last year after raising objections to the project – objections that they acknowledge came three months after DOT closed the public comment period. But DOT agreed to provide project data to the coalition last fall.

When it arrived, the accident data was only summarized. The coalition noted that the summary data included accidents south of the Waverly Road intersection, an area that isn’t part of the current project.

The coalition asked to see the 203 accident reports that were summarized by DOT’s consultant. But DOT said it didn’t have the reports. Those were in the hands of the state Department of Public Safety.

“It is necessary to first determine whether there is a crash problem in the study corridor by looking deeper into these crashes to find the cause of each one. This can be done by reviewing the police reports that were used to create the traffic crash summaries cited in the concept report,” Eric Tripi, the coalition’s traffic engineer, said in a review of the state project earlier this year.

Leah Quattlebaum, DOT’s project manager, said the reports from Public Safety were used by the engineers for the median project. “We had the individual police reports. Our consultant did review those and incorporate that into their analysis,” she said when the issue was raised this spring by the coalition. They had been returned to Public Safety by the time the coalition requested the project information from DOT, she said.

The coalition asked for the reports to be released under the state Freedom of Information Act. But David Gundling, an attorney and a coalition member, said Public Safety told the group the data was already available, at $6 per incident.

“I don’t think anyone has the crash data that I have right here,” Gundling said at a coalition meeting last week.

Goggans believes the data will show more accidents are related to right-hand turns than to left turns. The coalition plan, which it hopes to release in the next couple of weeks, will restrict right turns and keep more of the median open for left turns, he said.

“Strategic islands” would break up the median to keep vehicles from using it for a travel lane, Goggans said. “You can put some real landscaping in the median,” he added.

Like the DOT plan, the alternative will include new traffic lights, “but we think they should be studied further,” Goggans said.

The DOT plan calls for new signals at the Pawleys Island Post Office and the Hotel Drive/Jetty Drive intersection. The coalition believes a light should be placed at Parkersville Road, creating a three-way intersection, but one that leads to community facilities such as the Waccamaw Regional Recreation Center.

The coalition also questions the need for a light at the post office. Members say Tiller Drive or Professional Lane would be a better location.

“We do think there’s a better design option out there,” Goggans said. “That’s what this movement’s all about.”

The coalition has failed so far to convince state and local officials. Goggans said the group will consider litigation, though it would prefer not to.

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