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Highway 17: Officials call for lights in new Pawleys median

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Stephen Goldfinch hit the new concrete median with his tires as he made a U-turn to reach the Sonic drive-in on a trip through Pawleys Island one night recently. He thought street lights would help. He isn’t alone.

“I’ve had numerous calls on that,” said Mike Wooten, who represents the 7th Congressional District on the board of the state Department of Transportation. “Lighting at the turn lanes would be much more effective.”

“I completely concur,” said Goldfinch, a state House member who chairs the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study policy committee, the group that directs DOT funds to regional projects.

Wooten has asked DOT’s project manager to look at installing electrical conduit in the raised median. The $3.75 million project covers 1.8 miles of Highway 17 from Waverly Road to Baskervill Drive. It is due for completion by Nov. 30.

“DOT is rapidly putting together a list of alternatives with the costs associated,” said Mark Hoeweler, the senior staff member for the transportation study. The agency wants to get the work done under the current contract, using any cost savings that have accrued.

Council Member John Thomas, who represents Georgetown County on the transportation study committee, agreed the lights make sense. “Ideally, Santee Cooper would install post lighting on the median like in Mount Pleasant,” he said. “That would minimize the amount of light we’re putting up in the sky.”

DOT doesn’t do street lights, said Michael Bethea, the department’s district traffic engineer. “We would want it to be in the county’s name,” he said. The county would have to get an encroachment permit from the department and the lights would have to meet DOT standards.

The county will also have to pay for the lights. “It’s going to make for an interesting discussion,” Council Member Steve Goggans said.

The county pays for street lights in Garden City through accommodations tax. That might be a solution, Goggans said, but he added “that pot is getting smaller.”

DOT’s assessment will determine how many lights are needed and what the utility bill will be, Hoeweler said. The agency will need some indication from the county whether it is willing to take on that cost before it tackles the wiring.

“The high end would be trying to retrofit some sort of lighting that would go down the median,” Hoeweler said. “The low end is using existing utility poles and supplementing them where there are gaps.”

And he added, “if it had been part of the original plan, it would have been much easier.”

Goggans led opposition to the median project, which replaced a two-way left-turn lane with a concrete median that has openings for left turns and U-turns. He thinks street lighting will help.

“Lighting, sidewalks, control over signage, all those things make for an attractive downtown,” he said.

Goggans also believes the lighting will improve safety, which is a good reason for the county to take on the expense, he said.

“Those ribbons of concrete are hard to see at night,” Goggans said. “Either the concrete ribbons need to come out or there needs to be lighting or reflector strips.”

The project calls for reflective paint to be used for pavement markings.

Lighting will help define the area. “It announces that you’re entering a downtown, commercial area,” Goggans said.

“That would solve a whole lot of problems,” Goldfinch said.

Goggans has heard from business owners in the project area who have told him sales were down 15 to 20 percent this summer even as the number of visitors in the area increased over last year. He isn’t sure whether lighting would make the business district more appealing, but, he said, “safety at night would be a benefit to business.”

While he finds the landscaped areas attractive and thinks the project’s impact needs to be assessed over the coming tourist season, Goggans said, “I think it’s compromised the area in many ways.”

The transportation study policy committee last week approved $100,000 for a study of the Highway 17 corridor through Waccamaw Neck. It will provide an update to a study completed in 2003 that included the median project as a recommended alternative to expanding the highway through the Pawleys Island area to six lanes.

Goggans wants the county to provide funds to include land-use planning to transportation planning in the corridor study. “Rather than S.C. DOT coming forward with a plan that had three versions that were all very similar and saying, ‘Pick one,’ this time we’re going to work to establish consensus,” he said.

He used Mount Pleasant as a model. A road improvement plan there involved surveys, day-long workshops and an interactive website to engage the community, Goggans said.

Hoeweler said the transportation study staff will put together the scope of work for the corridor study and hire an outside firm to perform it. Georgetown County will be able to augment that.

Goggans hopes to get a commitment on county funding in January. He estimated it would take six to eight months to do the study. “It could happen sometime in 2016,” he said.

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