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Highway 17: County plans update of 2003 corridor study

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County will take a new look at the Highway 17 corridor through Waccamaw Neck. A three-member committee of County Council will start work on an update to a 2003 corridor study.

The highway is approaching an average of 40,000 vehicles a day, said Council Member Steve Goggans. Eventually the state legislature will pass an infrastructure bill that will fund improvements and the county needs to be ready, he said.

Before running for council last year, Goggans led a group that opposed the state Department of Transportation plan to replace the paved two-way left-turn lane on Highway 17 in the Pawleys Island business district with a raised median. That work is now under way. The 2003 corridor study included that project as an alternative to expanding the highway to six lanes.

It forecast that by 2015 traffic conditions would be “unacceptable” without improvements to Highway 17, where volume was expected to reach nearly 70,000 trips per day. Recent estimates from the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study put that volume at nearly 50,000 trips per day by 2035.

Goggans would like the corridor study to look at pedestrian infrastructure, signage, landscaping and adjacent land use in addition to traffic. He called it “a more holistic approach.”

County Administrator Sel Hemingway said the 2003 study guided land use decisions, particularly the requirement that adjacent developments along the highway connect to one another. But in other areas, such as the expansion of a network of side streets, “development intercepted some of the options,” he said.

Council Member John Thomas, who once worked as a traffic engineer, and Council Member Ron Charlton will also serve on the committee.

The council members will come up with a scope for the study, Hemingway said. For the 2003 study, the county hired a consultant and created a citizens group to review the firm’s recommendations.

The plan was approved by County Council and became part of the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study, which made it eligible for state funds.

“It’s a great opportunity to plan for the future,” Thomas said. Not all of the 2003 goals have been met, he noted.

But he added he doesn’t want the process to be a replay of the median debate.

“They’re facing a whole lot of issues up there,” Charlton said. He has worked in recent months with the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners Associations to improve the speed limit signs in the 45 mph zone through Pawleys Island and Litchfield.

DOT extended the 45 mph zone last year a mile south on Highway 17 in the Pawleys Island area. The POA council is willing to pay for a flashing sign to warn drivers about the transition from the 60 mph zone. Tom Stickler, the POA council chairman, said he is also concerned that there are no 45 mph signs on 1.6 miles of highway at North Litchfield.

Michael Bethea, the state Department of Transportation’s district traffic engineer, told the POA council he thinks the existing signs are adequate.

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