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Highway 17: State extends 45 mph zone in Pawleys area

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The speed limit on a stretch of Highway 17 in Pawleys Island dropped like the winter temperature this week. And unlike the mercury, it isn’t going to rise.

The state Department of Transportation extended the 45 mph zone a mile south from Pawleys Plantation to below Allston Plantation. At 8 miles, the 45 mph zone through Pawleys Island and Litchfield is now longer than the 60 mph zone on Highway 17 that begins in Georgetown.

“I think this is the best thing for us,” said Vic Boucher, president of the property owners association at Camden Creek in Allston Plantation. The group has lobbied for a lower speed limit for years.

“We’ve had several requests over the years,” said Michael Bethea, DOT’s district traffic engineer. “It’s developed more over the years. We just said it’s time.”

The approval of plans for Coastal Montessori Charter School at the intersection of Old Plantation Drive helped tip the balance, he said. In general, it’s hard to get drivers to adhere to speed limits if there’s no obvious reason for them, Bethea said. The mile added to the 45 mph zone on Highway 17 doesn’t look busier than the 60 mph zone, which made the decision difficult.

Mark Hoeweler, senior staff member for the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study, was surprised by the change, particularly since construction hasn’t started on the school. “To me, where you have problems is a lot of people don’t slow down below 50 until they hit the South Causeway. It’s a natural traffic calming visual,” he said.

Although posted at 45 mph, the expectation is that traffic is going faster, Bethea said. “If you don’t live there and are just going through, you want to go as fast as you can,” he said.

But for Boucher, that getting to the highway from his neighborhood meant facing traffic going 70 mph. “For our subdivision this is a real help,” he said.

It’s good to get the zone established before the school opens, he added. That’s likely to be some time in 2016.

The change will help residents at Hagley Estates, too, said Tom Stickler, president of its property owners association. “It’s going to be welcome for a couple of reasons,” he said. “A lot of people come onto 17 from Kings River Road. Especially when school lets out it’s hard to get out when traffic is flying down 17.”

The extension of the 45 mph zone coincides with an increase in traffic enforcement by the Highway Patrol, which has already pulled over vehicles in the area. Stickler has already asked DOT to put up more 45 mph signs to let drivers entering the highway know about the limit. “I think it’s all going to be good, but it isn’t going to help unless people are aware that it’s 45,” he said.

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