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Highway 17: Median opponents make final plea to council

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Opponents of a median planned for Highway 17 in Pawleys Island are pointing to a four-car accident this week at the entrance to Lowes Foods opposite Tyson Drive as an example of what to expect when the project is completed.

David Gundling, a lawyer and head of the opposition group Citizens Coalition for Ocean Highway, said the potential for accidents will be 10 times greater in the 1.8-mile stretch of highway between Waverly Road and Baskervill Drive when the median is complete. “There will be 17 U-turns,” Gundling told members of Georgetown County Council Tuesday during a time reserved for public comment after the group was denied a place on the agenda. “Tourists will be confused. We’re concerned about the safety of the public. I don’t want my son or daughter involved in an accident because DOT in Columbia has decided how we should drive. We want our roads to be safe.”

The state Department of Transportation denied a request from the developers of Pawleys Market to install a traffic signal at its entrance on Highway 17 because of its close proximity to the light at the South Causeway. Acceleration lanes for motorists turning north from Tyson and south from Lowes Foods onto Highway 17 were converted to turning lanes for the shopping center. Though the proposed median and the Tyson intersection problems are unrelated, foes argued that the Department of Transportation has made one mistake and the county should stop it from making another.

“We have hired a traffic adviser to make a determination that this [median] plan is unsafe,” Gundling said. “Still we get no response from our community leaders. Step up to support the town of Pawleys Island and our community for the safety of our families.”

Gundling said his group had petitioned the council on four occasions to appoint a steering committee to address the median. “This is a very serious item,” he said. “By what happened June 10 as a referendum, they want county leaders to listen to them, hear their concerns and act on their concerns. That’s why I filed another request to put this on the agenda. We still have time to address this matter.”

June 10 was the date of the Republican primary for the District 6 seat on Georgetown County Council. Steve Goggans, former head of the coalition, also known as Don’t Strip the Neck, defeated incumbent Bob Anderson on the strength of the median issue and the 3,000 people who signed a petition against it.

“People have spoken and asked repeatedly for consideration,” Goggans told council members. “The lack of response is, quite frankly, the reason people are so frustrated.”

Goggans said the county is mistakenly trusting DOT while cities Myrtle Beach, Conway and Mount Pleasant frequently appoint task forces to gather ideas. “Despite repeated requests for citizen input and a citizen task force, we have been ignored,” Goggans said. “The city of Conway, after going through the design process and reaching a point where we are today, stopped a project and did not have to pay a cent. We have advocated changing the project and redesign. Before this goes adversarial, let’s create this task force.”

One of the reasons council members have given for sticking with the DOT median plan is that the county may have to pay back some of the design fees if it’s scrapped.

Bob Dimesky, a resident of Pawleys Plantation, said median foes were preparing for court action. “In light of an impending lawsuit, I find it entirely wasteful and irresponsible of County Council to move forward with this project,” he said. “Do you believe that if you get Phase 1 into service as it has been designed you will get Phase 2?”

The coalition has hired the Bellamy Law Firm of Myrtle Beach to bring its suit on the grounds that public comment rules and requirements of a federal grant for $1 million to link the four stoplights in the median’s area were not followed. Pending condemnation actions for right-of-way acquisition will also be contested, Gundling said.

The Federal Highway Administration was due to authorize $3.75 million for the median on June 27.

Dimesky suggested to council members they delay the median and combine the phases — Phase 2 would extend from Waverly Road to the South Causeway. “Get the community on your side,” he said.

Karen Yaniga, who lives off the South Causeway, said she had contacted Leah Quattlebaum of the state Department of Transportation for examples of medians in similar areas. “Leah was not able to give an example similar to what we’re doing in Pawleys Island,” Yaniga said.

She told council members that she had tried to make U-turns on Highway 17 with her Honda CRV and found it “impossible” without running off the pavement. The median plan calls for paved aprons called loons at U-turns to allow more turning radius for larger vehicles. Yaniga said her research showed a high percentage of fixed object and sideswipe crashes at loons in a 2004 study.

“If the Lowes intersection is an indication of what is considered safety by DOT,” she said, “we have been sorely abused.”

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