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Highway 17: Public input a priority for corridor study

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Any ideas about changing the Highway 17 corridor through the Waccamaw Neck must begin with buy-in from the public, a committee of Georgetown County Council members and professional staff agreed this week.

The council’s Highway 17 Corridor Study Committee of Steve Goggans, John Thomas and Ron Charlton met to define the parameters of a proposed study of the road that could piggyback on a $100,000 project already approved by the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study.

There were different views on how to get maximum involvement from local residents. Goggans said he preferred beginning with a blank slate and soliciting ideas from business owners as well as stakeholders representing the communities and tourists. The town of Mount Pleasant, he said, sent surveys to everyone in the community, did a charette for a few days and had an interactive website.

Goggans rode into county office on the votes of people dissatisfied with the design and rollout of the Highway 17 median between Baskervill and Waverly roads. He said a criticism of the median was the slim pickings between three alternatives.

Mark Hoeweler, senior staff member for GSATS, said a panel of seven or eight people is the traditional driving force behind what a study ought to be. “We are not talking about a project,” Hoeweler said. “We are talking about a laundry list of projects in a cohesive plan and want to be able to go before the GSATS board and ask that this be added to other work. They will say, ‘Yeah, those are all worthwhile. We need to roll that right in.’ That’s the end goal, to get a plan everybody wants and can be incorporated into the larger effort.”

Sel Hemingway, county administrator, said he was hearing a consensus that public input was important. He would ask potential consultants to suggest certain ways to get that input during the competitive bid process. “We may very well get some enhanced services,” he said.

Thomas said he would like to see the committee prioritize its ideas and rely on consultants to propose a range of solutions. He wondered about the impact on traffic through the Waccamaw Neck once the Southern Evacuation Life Line is built in Horry County and the feasibility of building new roads parallel to Highway 17, even a four-lane Kings River Road.

“Geography constrains us here,” Thomas said. “It would help us to do long-range planning to have some understanding of how SELL affects traffic on Waccamaw Neck.”

Consensus of the panel was that consultants should exhaust all angles before proposing making Highway 17 six lanes. That has been rejected by area residents as a solution to traffic problems, leading to the median project.

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