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Highway 17: Time running out for changes to median plan

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Two weeks after a citizens group proposed an alternative to the state plan to remove the paved median from Highway 17 in the Pawleys Island business district, an official involved in the project says he has not heard from its proponents.

The state Department of Transportation plans to allow bids for the $3.75 million project in April. The design has to be completed four months before that, said Mark Hoeweler, the senior staff member for the Grand Strand Transportation Study, which has worked with DOT on the project.

“We’re fast approaching being locked in on the design,” he said.

The project will install a raised median along 1.9 miles of Highway 17 from Baskervill Drive to the Waverly Road/North Causeway intersection. Left turns and U-turns will be limited to 16 median breaks, including the existing traffic signals at Waverly and Martin Luther King Roads and two signals that will be installed as part of the project.

The Citizens Coalition for Ocean Highway has organized opposition to the project. It hired a traffic engineer to study the DOT project and recommend changes. Those were announced Dec. 2.

“I haven’t received anything from the coalition,” Hoeweler said. “I have had no dialogue with the coalition.”

Steve Goggans, who chairs the coalition, said its proposal was supposed to be sent through an intermediary. “We need to take steps to get them the documents,” he said. “If that’s what’s required, that’s what we’ll do.”

The Grand Strand Transportation Study is an inter-governmental body that allocates federal highway funds to projects around the region. While the coalition has focused on getting Georgetown County Council to endorse changes in the median project, council members have said those changes need to go to Hoeweler and DOT.

The coalition’s alternative keeps 12 sections of the paved median – also known as a two-way left-turn lane – and separates them with landscaped areas to keep vehicles from traveling in the median. The coalition prepared a concept plan, but its engineer, Eric Tripi, said the exact location of the turning lanes and the landscaping will need to be based on traffic volume. He has estimated another two months of work is required to turn the concept into a finished plan.

The coalition also says it wants to restrict driveways along the right side of the highway as a way to meet DOT’s goals for maintaining traffic flow as volume along the highway increases. That would follow in a subsequent phase. Highway 17 has an annual average of 31,400 vehicles a day using the median project area. That is expected to increase to nearly 42,000 vehicles by the end of the decade.

Hoeweler said he did get a copy of the Tripi’s report to the coalition via e-mail from a third party. “I’d rather comment when someone gives me something officially,” he said.

But he noted that the alternative removes the designated left-turn lanes in favor of two-way left-turn lanes. “There’s a reason why the design we came up with totally did away with the two-way left-turn lane for safety and conflict-point reduction,” he said.

“To organize and make it predictable. That was the impetus behind the design,” Hoeweler said.

Goggans said the coalition’s proposal was based on roads in Mount Pleasant and Charlotte. It may still require U-turns to reach some destinations along the highway, but it tries to provide left-turn access to existing businesses. “While no system is perfect, we’re meeting more goals of the community than the existing design,” Goggans said.

He isn’t optimistic that the proposal will be accepted. He questioned the January deadline set for the final plan in order for the April bidding. “I think it’s been rushed due to the opposition,” he said.

County Council members have stressed that the opposition didn’t begin until after DOT closed the comment period on the project in May 2012 following two public meetings. That won’t be an issue when the second phase of the DOT median project focuses on the paved median on Highway 17 south of Waverly Road. Although no funding has been approved for that work, Goggans said the coalition will be ready when it is.

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