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Highway 17: Median opponents get another rebuff from council

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Opponents of a Highway 17 median plan in Pawleys Island told Georgetown County Council this week it has shirked its duty in refusing to listen to alternative ideas.

David Gundling, a member of the Citizens Coalition for Ocean Highway, presented a resolution asking for a review of the Department of Transportation proposal to replace the center turn lane with a raised median that has 17 breaks for left turns and U-turns. He said it was the third time he had presented such a resolution asking for review of the project.

“I am very disappointed and disillusioned in the way County Council has handled the median,” Gundling said during the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting. “We are not getting any type of resolution for any of our demands.” He said 3,000 people are behind the coalition’s goal of seeking a 90-day review of the project.

Steve Goggans, coalition chairman, said DOT designed the median project using traffic accident summary data. The coalition, he said, gathered detailed police reports at its own expense and has determined the median design will contribute very little to safety and may, in fact, cause more accidents with the addition of two traffic signals.

Goggans said data shows only two or three of the yearly average 25 accidents on the 1.8-mile section of Highway 17 between Waverly Road and Baskervill Drive took place because of the existing turn lane. The Waverly Road-Highway 17 intersection was the site of nearly a quarter of the 74 wrecks between 2008 and 2010. Goggans said DOT overstated the number of accidents, and that may have had an influence on the design of the median.

“The agenda is a DOT agenda about traffic flow with little to do with safety,” he told council members. “It gives priority to through traffic at the expense of locals.”

He said the coalition’s alternative, designed by Eric Tripi, a transportation engineer with the Iteris firm, would work better and cost less than DOT’s proposal. Tripi’s plan would limit left turns by inserting a series of planted medians. Goggans said the coalition’s alternative maintains access to businesses and maintains the county’s goal of making sure people can travel between adjacent businesses without going onto Highway 17.

“The SCDOT design compromises the quality and the character of our community, threatens businesses and drives more traffic, particularly truck traffic, into adjacent neighborhoods,” Goggans said. “The proposed plan raises issues with regard to EMS vehicles, other first responders and public safety, as well as servicing local businesses by trucks. In addition to these traffic impacts, the proposed plan will compromise the attractiveness of Pawleys Island.”

Council Member Bob Anderson said afterward he’s not convinced that the council can force changes in the median plan, despite what the coalition members say.

“They are trying to drag us into it because they’ve got nowhere else to go,” he said. “We could ask that it be terminated, but at the end of the day DOT would do whatever it wanted. What money has been spent, we would have to pay back. We’d be saying stop the project and writing a check for a million and a half dollars. That’s not a legal opinion, but it’s the answer I get.”

Anderson said he looked at the coalition’s alternative and estimated that it maintains an estimated 60 percent of the left turn lane.

“I think that’s bad,” he said. “What we are trying to end is left turns into two lanes of oncoming traffic. Their idea is certainly going to be cheaper because you’re only going to tear up 35 percent of the road. Another thing is that the traffic lights are to be determined. If you are going to have a better idea, the devil is in the details. After 23 months, they don’t know where the lights are going to be. I say the more lights the better though DOT wouldn’t agree.”

Anderson said the objections about the original public hearing being poorly advertised are subjective. Property owners were notified in writing.

“The folks who think I’m a bad guy can cast a vote in November and get rid of me,” Anderson said. “I still think we are doing the right thing.”

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