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Coastal Carolina seeks state money for new walkway over SC 544 to protect students

Coastal Carolina Student Union

Coastal Carolina University is asking for $7.5 million in one-time funds from the state budget to build a new pedestrian walkway over S.C. 544. Nicole Ziege/Staff

CONWAY — Coastal Carolina University is trying to figure out how students can more safely cross S.C. 544 after two students died several years ago trying to cross the busy roadway leading to the beach.

CCU is asking for $7.5 million in one-time funds from the state budget to build a pedestrian walkway over the four-lane highway. Officials hope the project will provide safer crossing for students living in apartment complexes on the other side.

“I don’t mean to sound dramatic about it, but these are students’ lives,” said CCU President Michael Benson, while appealing to state legislators for the funds earlier this month.

The university is  unsure where the walkway would be located and they are working with the S.C. Department of Transportation for the project, CCU spokesman Jerry Rashid said. CCU also has discussed improving safety with crossings over S.C. 501 as well as S.C. 544.

“Student safety is always a top priority for the university," Rashid said.

Although there is a crosswalk intersection at S.C. 544 and Founders Drive, CCU officials said students sometimes cross the congested roadway in areas where there are no safety accommodations.

"Sometimes they don't make the best decisions at night, and you can't see students at night," Benson said.

These unsafe crossings led to two students getting hit by a car and killed several years ago, a third student getting hit and placed in critical condition while crossing earlier this month and several incidents where students were nearly hit, Benson said.

The university declined to provide the three students’ names or specifics on the incidents, citing privacy regulations.

Funding has not yet been set aside for the walkway, and CCU plans to fund it through other sources if the state does not include it in this year’s budget.

Benson said CCU has previously requested federal funds for the project, but those proposals never made it out of committee. The walkway project was first proposed in 2021, and discussions about improving safety over S.C. 544 have taken place since around 2016.

Over the years, CCU has considered other options to help prevent student-involved accidents, like reducing the speed limit on S.C. 544 near campus; installing a blinking yellow light to warn drivers of pedestrian traffic; and featuring a center median to stop pedestrians from crossing in non-designated highway areas.

CCU has started conducting feasibility studies on the center median idea, according to university officials.

Benson said CCU has also considered building a wall along the sidewalks to ensure students don’t cross outside of the unsafe paths. However, he said students might still climb over the walls, which is why the university wants to build a walkway over the highway.

This issue of promoting students' safety comes as CCU welcomed the largest freshman class in its history for the second consecutive year, with 3,459 students last fall. The preliminary enrollment for the fall 2022 semester totaled 10,373 students.

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 Follow Nicole Ziege on Twitter @NicoleZiege.

Nicole Ziege covers city and county government and politics for The Post & Courier Myrtle Beach. She is originally from Kentucky, and now lives in Myrtle Beach.

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