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‘Stop the Fence’: Neighbors voice concerns over proposed pedestrian improvements to S.C. 544

Published: Jul. 6, 2021 at 10:42 AM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) – Beach bound or heading inland, drivers zooming up and down Highway 544 near Coastal Carolina University will spot yellow sign after yellow sign reading “Stop the Fence.”

The signs were put up by the owner of ACE Bookstore to alert drivers of a public meeting in response to a proposed project from CCU and the South Carolina Department of Transportation. The proposal is to build a raised median and fence in the middle of the four-lane highway from Elvington Loop to Carter Lane.

The area lines up with CCU’s campus and has been the site of students being hit by vehicles in the past.

The meeting has since been postponed from July 8 to mid-August due to the possibility of severe weather this week.

But the project is still on track, and neighbors still see the pedestrian improvements as hazardous for drivers.

Coastal said it’s all about keeping students safe while crossing the street and are aware some neighbors have concerns.

“While we have a designated current crosswalk at Founder’s Drive, that is not always the route individuals, both students and non-students always take to cross the road,” CCU Chief of Staff Travis Overton said.

Overton said a fence in the middle of the road would force students to cross at the crosswalk.

But Caroline Calvert, who lives along West Cox Ferry Road, said she thinks it would cause all drivers to turn around right at West Cox Ferry Road since they couldn’t turn left where they want to. She said West Cox Ferry Road where it meets Highway 501, is already backed up, busy and dangerous.

“A concrete barrier diverting the traffic, it’s going to make it horrendous,” Calvert said.

Instead, she’d like to see other ideas considered.

“Lower the speed limit in front of the school to 30, put flashing lights all over, put a fence down on the sidewalk so that people can get in and out of their apartment complexes, but will have to walk to the traffic light,” she added.

Student Kameron Stewart said he always tries to use the crosswalk, but often times sees other students cross the highway to get to the gas station across from his apartment. He said he’s not sure how he feels about the fence just yet.

“You don’t want to get hit crossing the road. I can say I’ll be at that meeting,” Stewart added.

SCDOT and CCU said they thought about pedestrian bridges or tunnels for students to use, but ultimately decided on the fence. They said it’s a more cost-effective idea at just $1.1 million.

SCDOT said CCU received some matching funds through a grant for pedestrian safety upgrades, but SCDOT, the school and the Horry County Transportation Committee will pay for the rest. SCDOT also said they will repave the road where the fence is put up, clearing out any potholes or cracks in the highway.

Construction is expected to start in the fall of 2022. SCDOT has not said when exactly the rescheduled meeting will take place.

A breakdown of the project from SCDOT can be found here.

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