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Highway 17: Pawleys median project enters the home stretch

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The road has never been smooth for a project to install a raised median along 1.8 miles of Highway 17 in Pawleys Island. But it won’t be quite as rough if repaving begins on schedule next week.

The $3.75 million project that began this spring is still on track to be completed by Nov. 30. The contractor, Palmetto Corp., has removed most of the old road surface. “They should start paving sometime next week,” said Kit Scott, the project manager for the state Department of Transportation. “They’ll start in the middle and work their way out.”

One portion of the project that won’t be complete is a high-tech system to sync traffic lights in the Pawleys Island area. That’s a separate contract and won’t be installed until the start of 2016, according to Mark Hoeweler, senior staff member of the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study, which coordinates projects between DOT and local governments.

The project replaced a two-way left-turn lane with a raised median that has breaks for left turns and U-turns. The paving will raise the road surface 2 inches. “The medians will not look as tall,” Scott said.

It will take a week for the asphalt to cure. Work will then begin installing wires in the pavement at the intersections at the Pawleys Island Post Office and Hotel Drive/Jetty Drive where traffic signals were added. Those lights and five existing signals between Martin Luther King Drive and Tyson Drive will be linked to a computerized system that will react to actual traffic conditions.

“When we first proposed it, there was only one operating in the state,” said Hoeweler. “Now, there are about half a dozen.”

The transportation study policy committee will get a proposal next week to include more funds in its budget for the “adaptive-reactive” signal technology. “This is a statewide kind of effort,” Hoeweler said.

In the median project area, the signals will help create gaps in the traffic flow for left turns and U-turns in addition to allowing traffic from the side streets to get on the highway. The system will use radio signals to gauge traffic, Hoeweler said.

Among the complaints about the project is that without the signals, it’s hard to turn left onto Highway 17. The signals will initially be activated with the loops in the pavement. The adaptive-reactive signals will be monitored from a DOT control center in Myrtle Beach, Hoeweler said.

He only learned this week that the equipment won’t arrive until December.

The signal system was funded through a federal grant for the median project. DOT agreed to extend the system south along Highway 17 when it approved a traffic signal for the Tyson Drive intersection following the opening of the Lowes Foods store in 2014. Knowing that another signal was planned for the Petigru Drive intersection to serve the Publix supermarket that opened this year, “we stressed that,” Hoeweler said.

The new pavement in the median project area between Waverly Road and Baskervill Drive also means that permanent markings will go down on the highway. Those will be reflective and easier to see at night, Scott said. There is also some additional landscaping to be planted.

“I actually think it’s going to be a really good project,” Scott said. “I hope people give it some time.”

DOT also managed a drainage project funded by Georgetown County that was done along with the median project. That work was tested by last month’s rain that accompanied the record-setting storm that hit South Carolina. Scott saw less flooding on Highway 17.

“The new crosslines are capable of transferring more water quicker,” she said. “All of those are completed now.”

The heavy rain caused “normal erosion control issues” for the median project, but there were no washouts, Scott said.

In addition to the rain stopping work, the traffic control devices used for the median project were shifted to areas that suffered from flood damage. “With all the other emergency contracts, that wasn’t a priority,” Scott said.

Nevertheless, she added, “this project will still be finished on time.”

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