Highway 17 median supporters and opponents getting their message out
There are two things about the median project for U.S. Highway 17 in Pawleys Island that supporters and opponents agree on: something needs to be done about traffic, and the public has gotten a large amount of misinformation.
Georgetown County Councilman Jerry Oakley tried to clear up some of the misinformation by speaking to a crowd of about 70 people at the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners Association meeting on Monday night.
He brought along a panel of “experts” to help him: Mike Wooten, seventh district commissioner for the S.C. Department of Transportation; Mark Hoeweler, assistant executive director of the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments; and Rick Day of Stantec, the company that designed the project.
“There is no perfect solution,” Oakley said, but stopping the project is not an option. “The train left the station a long time ago on this project.”
Oakley laid some of the blame on the amount of misinformation at the feet of the media, who disseminated incorrect information that was given to them.
One piece of misinformation that has been a recurring theme at several median meetings is that the project will put 5-foot-tall “Jersey barriers” in the median.
Day clarified that there are absolutely no Jersey barriers in the plan, and the new median will be landscaped.
The amount of landscaping in the plan is a bone of contention, with Hoeweler saying that 40 percent of the median will be landscaped, and opponents claiming that number will be significantly less. A member of the Litchfield Corridor Beautification Committee said the group has been asked to help pick out plant materials for the project, but added that the group's board is not for or against the project.
Hoeweler cautioned people not to expect the median in Pawleys to look like the one in Litchfield because SCDOT no longer allows those types of plantings.
The Citizens Coalition for Ocean Highway, which is leading the opposition to the plan, has repeatedly said the project will harm businesses on and near Highway 17 in Pawleys.
Wooten said that is a “legitimate concern,” but that argument comes up every time SCDOT builds a new road or improves an old one.
“It's going to be harder to get into some businesses along Highway 17. That's a fact,” Wooten said. “Some may gain, some may lose.”
The coalition has come up with an alternative plan which includes a series of islands instead of landscaped median with fewer turning points and two new traffic lights.
“Every median cut reduces the capacity of a highway,” Oakley said.
“I stand behind this design,” Day said.
Bob Dimesky of Pawleys Island questioned whether the project is appropriate for a resort community with a lot of visitors that is also home to a lot of older drivers. Dimesky believes it is simply “a way to move traffic between Wilmington and Georgetown.”
Wooten said the best way to ease traffic through Pawleys Island is to build the Southern Evacuation Lifeline. He predicted that could happen in the next 15 years.
The Citizens Coalition for Ocean Highway will present its median plan at a meeting on Thursday in the Francis Marion room at Litchfield Beach & Golf Resort.
The meeting starts at 6 p.m. and is open to the public.
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