Median opponents question how SCDOT project will make Highway 17 safer

  • Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Chris Sokoloski/Times Steve Goggans, co-founder of the Citizens Coalition for Ocean Highway, discusses an alternative to the SCDOT’s plan to close the median along U.S. Highway 17 in Pawleys Island during a press conference on Monday.

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The Citizens Coalition for Ocean Highway released traffic data on Monday that it believes proves that an SCDOT plan the close the paved median along U.S. Highway 17 in Pawleys Island could make the highway less safe.

Eric Tripi of Iteris was hired by the coalition to review the accident data in the “US-17 Median Improvements Concept Report,” which was written by Stantec, the firm that designed the median project. He believes there was an “overstatement of crashes,” which could have influenced the project’s design.

Using summary crash data, Stantec reported that there were 95 crashes in the three-year period between Jan. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2010 in the project’s area – the 1.9-mile stretch of Highway 17 between Baskervill Drive and Waverly Road.

The coalition filed more than 30 Freedom of Information requests to get the actual accident reports from the S.C. Department of Public Safety.

Looking at summary reports instead of accidents reports can be “misleading,” Tripi said.

The accident reports showed only 74 crashes for that same time period, and 19 of those happened at the Waverly Road traffic signal, Tripi said.

Since the SCDOT plan includes the installation of two more traffic signals, Tripi believes that could add more crashes.

Of the 74 crashes during those three years, Tripi concluded that only two or three a year would have been “affected by a median.”

The Stantec report also stated that there were 203 collisions reported on the highway between Jan. 1, 2007 and Nov. 20, 2011. This was twice the statewide average for comparable roads, the report said.

Tripi was only able to review the data between Jan. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2011, but he came up with 94 crashes. He said it was unlikely there were 109 crashes between Jan. 1, 2007 and Dec. 31, 2007, which would have been required to meet the 203 number SCDOT reported.

“Commons sense says to me, this [plan] can in no way be safer than what is there now,” Goggans said.

He believes SCDOT’s agenda is to cater to people driving through the area, instead of the residents of Pawleys Island.

“If you’re traveling from Wilmington to Charleston, you’re going to like this design very well,” Goggans said.

The coalition has come up with its own plan, which includes a series of islands that would close parts of the median, but keep many more access points than the SCDOT plan.

Goggans said the coalition plan would also keep open the option of a second phase to install curbs and sidewalks and make the area pedestrian-friendly.

“Pawleys Island can, in fact, become a walkable community,” he said.

The coalition plan is too late, said Georgetown County Councilman Bob Anderson, who represents Pawleys Island. He said he spent months asking them for an alternative plan nearly two years ago after SCDOT’s public hearings on the median project.

He brought the county’s legislative delegation and representatives from SCDOT and Stantec to a meeting with Goggans and other coalition members, listened to their concerns, and asked them to submit an alternative plan.

“They kept coming back to the well but they never had a plan,” Anderson said. “That was the end for me.”

However, Anderson did say he would be OK with the coalition submitting its plan for review by the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study, which oversees the funding for the project.

The coalition has gathered signatures from more than 3,000 residents and 160 businesses on petitions opposing the SCDOT plan. Goggans said with opposition growing, County Council has an “obligation” to revisit the plan.

“The buck really does begin and end with Georgetown County Council.”

The SCDOT median plan can be viewed at www.gsats.org.

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