DOT proposes changes to "suicide lane" in Pawleys Island

Median in Pawleys Island the SCDOT wants to improve.

SCDOT wants to make some changes to the median on Highway 17 in Pawleys Island from Baskervill Drive to Waverly Road. The changes include raising it and adding landscaping. They say the stretch of road is dangerous, but some say the proposals will make it even worse.

It's estimated 29,000 cars travel on Highway 17 in Pawleys Island daily, and those numbers go up to 38,000 during tourist season. SCDOT officials say from 2007 to 2011, the area averaged 3.4 car collisions per month, that's twice the statewide average for similar roads.

At a public information meeting held Thursday night, residents could look at maps with three different plans for median improvements. Greg Kinzie is in favor of the changes. "I'm not going to say that there won't be any accidents, but I think if you can cut down on the potential for them especially with what they call the suicide lane."

The median is nicknamed "suicide lane" because some consider it dangerous. To improve safety, the DOT wants to add more traffic lights, raise the median and improve the aesthetics.

Residents asked plenty of questions and some like Bob Mimms voiced opposition.

"I think the whole thing is misguided. I think they have come up with two and a half million dollars that our government can spend on housing or the homeless or something else," he said. "They've not shown me these studies where our accidents are twice what they should be."

Mimms doesn't agree with the phrase "suicide lane" and said the wrecks are occuring at intersections. He said the DOT's plan of limiting left turns and encouraging u-turns will have the opposite effect. He's also worried about what will happen to businesses.

"The businesses have grown up with the median. To take it away now is wrong," he explained. "Suppose the hammock shops, suppose there's no turn in there? Those people who are going from Myrtle Beach to Charleston who have heard of the hammock shops they're gonna say well maybe we'll catch it on the way back. Chances are they're not."

But for those who aren't a part of the business community, the changes are long overdue.

"The sooner they get it done, I think the better it'll be, and people will get used to it, and it'll continue with the appearance from Litchfield in through Pawleys," said Kinzie. "I know that it's going to disrupt some businesses a little, some of the people are not in favor of it, but I think in the long run the safety issue outweighs even the beautification project."

The proposed changes haven't been officially adopted. SCDOT Project Manager Leah Quattlebaum said the project will move forward based on public input.

Plans and handouts are available here and at the Georgetown County Planning Department. Public comment will be accepted until April 19.

If the project is given the green light, right of way acquisitions will begin in the fall of this year and construction is set to begin spring 2014.