Op Ed: US Highway 17 Median Project
By Bob Anderson
I have been closely monitoring this project since the first of two meetings held by SC DOT in February 2012. A follow-up meeting was held in April 2012 to present three design options and notification that public comment would be considered until May 25, 2012.
During that period, letters were sent to all land owners and information ads were run in our newspapers. In August of 2012, I was contacted by the occupant of one of the properties bordering the project who had issues with the median design.
My first question to the individual was “Where were you when DOT was looking for public input?” Fast forward to today.
Let me try to put all of this into perspective. First, we are dealing with US 17, “The Ocean Highway”, the second largest artery along the southeast coast, only out-traveled by Interstate 95.
If I were king, I would reroute US 17 west across the Waccamaw River somewhere around Brookgreen Gardens and connect it to U.S. Highway 701, four lane Rt. 701, designate the section to Georgetown as US 17 and get the through traffic off of the neck. I would then make “Business 17” through Pawleys Island a two-lane cobble stone drive with all of the trimmings.
Unfortunately, folks who have been doing this much longer than I have advised me that I will be dead and gone, maybe sooner than I wish based on the current uprising, by the time we see a bridge across the river. I am told that the biggest problem is not the funds required to build the crossing, but the opposition by environmentalist groups including, among others, the Coastal Conservation League, the Sierra Club, and the League of Women Voters.
I have been advised that there was an effort to widen US 17 to six lanes in the 2002 time frame but there was significant opposition at that time and the effort was scrapped. In 2001 GSATS (Grand Strand Area Transportation Study), our MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization), hired Day Wilburn Associates to conduct the US 17 Corridor Study.
For the 1.9 mile segments of US 17 in PI, the study recommended a short-range improvement involving a raised median (approximately 8 inches), first for safety, second for capacity, and third for aesthetics. The project then took its place in line for funding from the GSATS TIP (Transportation improvement Plan). Recently, this project finally came to the top of the TIP list, and we can’t kick the can down the road any longer.
Some facts to consider. In 2011 there were 38,000 vehicles per day traveling in the project area of US 17 during tourist season. Between 2007 and 2011, there were 203 reported traffic accidents in the project area, twice the average crash frequency on roadways with similar characteristics and same functional classification. The average crash frequency is 106 accidents. Research shows that four-lane roads with raised medians have 57% fewer collisions than those with a paved two-way left turn lane. I’m no traffic engineer, but the empirical data shows that a median is the best solution to our immediate safety problem.
Currently, folks are able to converge in the center lane and make left turns into two lanes of oncoming traffic at an infinite number of points along our business corridor. Furthermore, I don’t care where the referenced traffic studies were taken. I have traveled all over the US; and all the roads, cars, and drivers look the same to me.
Since there has been so much confusion about what the median will look like, I will attempt to describe an overview of what the current design from Stantec Engineering looks like.
It will extend north from Waverly Road 1.9 miles to Baskervill Drive. Traveling north between Waverly Road and Baskervill Drive, there will be nine median openings where a motorist can turn left or make a U- turn. This is equivalent to one left turn every 1,115 feet. Traveling south between Baskervill Drive and Waverly Road, there will be 11 median openings where a motorist can turn left or make a U-turn. This is equivalent to one left turn every 912 feet. There is a greater concentration of turning lanes at the south end of the median because it is more commercially developed.
Two new traffic signals provide two additional protected pedestrian crossings, and the raised median provides a refuge area for pedestrians crossing US 17 between signals. The location of the signals was determined by traffic count. The most used intersections happen to be at the Post Office and the Fresh Market. Currently crosswalks are only available at the US 17 and Waverly Road intersection. We have no sidewalks along US 17 and the median design will not include sidewalks. It is a median project!
The new intersection designs are interesting. They reduce what is defined as “conflict points”. Conflict points are the points at which traffic movements intersect; i.e., likely crash points. A typical full access intersection has 32 conflict points whereas the modified intersections incorporated into this design only have 6 to 12. An average of 13 cars can be waiting in queue at all left hand turning lanes. Midway Fire and Rescue has signed off on the design as meeting their egress / ingress requirements.
As to the subject of “Beautification”, which was a tertiary design factor, 40% of the median will contain beds planted in an assortment of drought tolerant plants.
From the aforementioned information; I hope that you conclude that I, as your councilman, have attended more that one meeting on this subject and many hours analyzing the associated data and design. I am engaged, but not in control.
As always, my first concern is the safety of the citizens and my second concern is that our tax dollars are being spent wisely. My fellow elected members of local and state governments have the same order of responsibilities as I, so it is my belief that they would agree with me that it is time to move forward with this median project in lieu of continuing to put off the inevitable and take the first step in improving the traffic safety problem on US 17 through Pawleys Island.
Bob Anderson lives in the Pawleys Island area and represents District 6 on Georgetown County Council.
Opinions that appear on this page in Letters to the Editor or in columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.
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