110217 Highway 17: Emergency signal plan waits for budget cycle
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The proposed system uses GPS devices to control lights for emergency vehicles.

Highway 17: Emergency signal plan waits for budget cycle

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A proposal from a citizens group to let fire and rescue vehicles take control of traffic signals on Highway 17 and elsewhere around Georgetown County is on hold until next year’s budget cycle. The $650,000 estimated cost of the GPS-based system is more than the county can afford in the middle of a fiscal year, said County Council Member Austin Beard.

Karen Yaniga, a Pawleys Island area resident, was among four people who started work on the project earlier this year. They checked with Midway Fire and Rescue Chief Doug Eggiman, who agreed there is a problem with emergency vehicles getting onto Highway 17, particularly from the station located on Beaumont Drive. He told them about the GPS system.

“It even recognizes turn signals,” Eggiman said. “That’s how smart this stuff is nowadays.”

A device in each vehicle would communicate with traffic signals. The system would give priority to a fire truck over a support truck if they were headed to the scene in different directions from the same intersection.

Currently, emergency vehicles stop before driving through an intersection where they have the red light. The proposed system will improve safety for responders and other drivers. “It’s better for everyone out there,” Eggiman said.

The committee – including Yaniga, Tom Stickler and Gary and Pat Gadek – thought it was an idea that would benefit more people than just Waccamaw Neck residents. “Fire issues for me seem almost more critical when you go out any distance in the county,” Yaniga said.

So they developed a plan to purchase the equipment for 76 vehicles and 30 traffic signals in the three fire districts that cover Georgetown County.

They recommended the county pay for the system with a one-time assessment of $20 on the approximately 56,000 properties in the county.

Beard agreed this summer to take the plan to his colleagues. “On the surface, it looks nice. Is it a real concern? I’m not trying to make light of public safety, but there are going to have to be some real discussions,” Beard said this week.

He doesn’t think the flat assessment is feasible, and that leaves the county’s capital budget as the best source of funding. The time for that discussion will come when the county starts work on its budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, Beard said.

But he likes the county-wide concept. “It’s not my district, but we’ve always said we’re county councilmen,” Beard said.

The committee will follow the process, Yaniga said.

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