544: Enough is Enough
We, at Coastal Carolina, are enjoying massive success as our school continues to expand as a major university and rapidly becomes one of the foremost institutions in the region and it is all thanks to the work of an outstanding student body, athletics department and incredible faculty.
Unfortunately, our success is hindered by a darker issue, one that is the result of pure negligence and irresponsible decisions on behalf of both Horry County and the university administration – an issue that is not so uncommon to the students who live on and around campus.
The issue in question is Highway 544.
SC Highway 544 borders Coastal’s main campus on the west side and has been known for its severe accidents over the years, including the deaths of two students. Highway 544 is an unavoidable obstacle for the hundreds of students who commute to campus on foot. While University Place and the Cove may be benefitted by the school’s shuttle system, residents at Monarch and Coastal Club have to deal with hazards that come with crossing a major highway.
Because of the short distance to campus, coupled with a lack of parking spaces, many of the students living in the immediate area opt to walk across 544 on their daily commute to class. This issue is further compounded by the presence of two bars: the Coop and American Tavern directly opposite the university which are both popular destinations for students both on and off campus residences.
For many students, the crossing of 544 has resulted in close calls and even injuries. According to WMBF News, this past August of 2017, a student was struck by an oncoming car while attempting to cross the road and hospitalized with traumatic physical injuries. She is lucky to be alive.
Unfortunately, the crossing proved fatal for two other students – both resulting in horrific tragedies for all involved. According to WYFF4, Ryan Bielawa was killed in October of 2016 after being hit by a drunk driver. Earlier, in September of 2012, according to the Sun News, Elizabeth Paola Gorschack, a first year student, was killed in a similar incident. To many on campus, these incidents are becoming more predictable.
Erin Martin, a Senior at Coastal gave her thoughts on the issue.
“I’m really not surprised these things keep happening," said Martin. "It’s a dangerous road, and the school should really do something about it.”
Martin also stated that she is frustrated by the school’s lack of progress on the issue and is further saddened with each passing accident.
It is after heart-wrenching tragedies like this that we seek solutions so that others may not suffer in future incidents. What has the university administration done to prevent future accidents?
WMBF News wrote after Bielawa’s death in 2016 that a special committee was created to pose viable solutions which may mitigate future accidents. It was decided that traffic light intervals for the crossing near HTC Center would be changed to allow for more frequent red lights, and thus allow for crossing the road. The school also attempted to lower the speed limit.
The only practical option: a bridge, was ruled out for being too expensive. None of the measures implemented have made much impact as accidents have continued to happen and will continue to become more frequent as the population of the university grows year by year.
What our university needs is a pedestrian bridge built over the highway and not heartfelt statements from the administration every time a student is injured or killed. Most large universities near high speed traffic have pedestrian bridges; and, although expensive, they are vital to the safety of the student body.
Coastal was willing spend money to put up elaborate gates and close Chanticleer Drive on the premise of student safety, yet refuses to address the real problem: the lives of students that they are responsible for.
A pedestrian bridge over 544 would be an expensive, but end-all solution to the carnage that has been permitted to continue in a place many students call home. When placed in a centralized position on 544, students would no longer have to risk their lives to venture across the dangerous throughway or contend with the crosswalk which in itself is not entirely safe when it comes to crossing.