“While many people have become comfortable with the virtual meeting format over the past, Rep. Hewitt is right in pointing out that they come up short of providing the level of engagement required.”
More public input would help study
DON’T GET US STARTED talking about the traffic. Of course, there’s nothing Waccamaw Neck residents would rather talk about. State Rep. Lee Hewitt wants to keep us talking, but in a way that is both meaningful and productive.
The specific topic is the update to the 2003 study of the Highway 17 corridor on the Waccamaw Neck. It was completed over the past year to include a list of $53.3 million worth of projects proposed for the next 20 years. Those were the topic of a virtual meeting earlier this month, and normally that last round of public review would be the end of the process. These are not normal times. While many people have become comfortable with the virtual meeting format over the past, Rep. Hewitt is right in pointing out that they come up short of providing the level of engagement required. Putting 70 people in a chat room can’t compare with putting them together in an actual room for a conversation.
The updated corridor study, prepared by the firm AECOM under a contract with the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study, identifies areas of particular concern for traffic flow and safety. It also highlights how traffic planning has changed since 2003. In the original study, widening the highway to six lanes was seen as inevitable. Now, the use of “reduced conflict intersection” design is seen as more effective and economical.
Raise your hand if you can sketch out a reduced conflict intersection on the back of a napkin so your neighbors can understand what it looks like. The concept was explained well in the virtual meeting, but it deserves a wider audience if it is going to be the foundation for improvements on Highway 17.
One of the major improvements listed in the 2003 study was the installation of the raised median on Highway 17 through the Pawleys Island business district. It didn’t come up for funding for nearly a decade. When it did, the project drew complaints about both the design and the level of public input. To avoid repeating that scenario, there needs to be both more engagement before the update is formally adopted and ongoing engagement afterward.
The immediate obstacle isn’t time or interest, but money. The $100,000 contract with AECOM has been completed. The cost of filling in the gap in the process created by the pandemic seems to be a worthy target for some of the $12 million in COVID relief funds Georgetown County expects to receive. It was the county that requested the corridor study update. The county will also have to act to implement its recommendations. The public confidence in and support for the study shouldn’t be a victim of the pandemic.