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Highway 17: Monthly cost of median lights has officials weighing options

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Officials are looking for alternatives after learning that it will cost $8,000 a month to keep street lights lit along 1.9 miles of Highway 17 at Pawleys Island that have a newly-raised median.

The project’s completion date was Nov. 30, but the state Department of Transportation was asked two weeks before that to come up with a cost estimate for adding lights to the median. State Rep. Stephen Goldfinch raised the issue with the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study policy committee. He chairs the committee, which allocates DOT funds among projects in Georgetown and Horry counties.

DOT doesn’t install street lights. Those would be put up by Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility, and paid for by Georgetown County. Officials hoped there would be money left in the budget for the $3.75 million median project to install electricity in the median.

“Going down the median is just not possible at this point,” said Mark Hoeweler, the senior staff member for the transportation study. “You’d have to rip up the landscaping.”

He didn’t have a cost for installing infrastructure, but said it would involve poles along the roadside. That’s if the county agreed to pay the monthly light bill.

“I think it was a little rich,” Hoeweler said. Although he hadn’t heard from the county this week, “I’d be surprised if it went the other way,” he added.

“If the county doesn’t want to spend the money, then the people at Pawleys Island are going to have to deal with an unlit curb,” Goldfinch said.

He made the proposal for lights after hitting a curb as he made a U-turn one night last month. He drove through the area Monday night and said the addition of reflectors and paint hadn’t helped much. “It wasn’t fun going through there,” Goldfinch said. “I think lights would help.”

Goldfinch planned to contact the town of Mount Pleasant, where streetlights run down the center of a landscaped median on Highway 17. “They thought it was important to light it so people didn’t run over it,” he said.

County Council Member Steve Goggans, who led community opposition to the median design before running for the District 6 seat last year, agreed lighting would help, but he said there is no simple solution.

“I think there is a solution out there, but it isn’t something you can pull out of your hip pocket,” Goggans said.

The transportation policy committee last month approved $100,000 for a study of the Highway 17 corridor through Waccamaw Neck. Goggans urged the county to seek the funds to update a 2003 study that included the raised median as a way to improve the flow of traffic without widening the highway. He hopes the revised study will address landscaping and lighting along with traffic.

But the median project area, between Waverly Road and Baskervill Drive, may need to be addressed sooner. “The turn lanes, those little ribbons of concrete are very difficult to see,” Goggans said.

The project removed the two-way left-turn lane. Left turns and U-turns are allowed at median breaks, including two intersections that will have new traffic signals: the Pawleys Island Post Office and the Hotel Drive/Jetty Drive intersection.

Goggans isn’t sure light fixtures in the median would help. The median breaks need to be illuminated from the side, he said, and poles in the median would block visibility and create a hazard. “It’s not an easy problem to solve,” he said.

“They should have thought of that before,” Goldfinch said.

Hoeweler agreed. “I wish this had been a priority on the front end,” he said. “Usually at the front end people are trying to keep costs down.”

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