Faster speed limit requested for Cross Island Parkway

tbarton@islandpacket.comDecember 5, 2011 

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A Hilton Head Island committee endorsed a need for speed Monday.

The Public Safety Committee voted 2-1, with Councilman Lee Edwards opposed, that Town Council ask the state to increase the speed limit on the Charles E. Fraser Bridge on the Cross Island Parkway from 40 mph to 45 mph.

The limit on Palmetto Bay Road from the Palmetto Business Park to Island Crossings Shopping Center would increase from 35 mph to 45 mph, as well.

Town traffic engineer Darrin Shoemaker said some perceive the bridge, with its 40 mph limit, to be a speed trap targeting tourists. Questions about the appropriateness of the speed limit have persisted since the Cross Island Parkway opened in 1998, he said.

In recent years, residents have asserted the speed limit is too low and burdens visitors when strictly enforced, Shoemaker said. The Greater Island Council wrote the town several months ago recommending changes be considered.

"No one is doing 45 mph; they're doing 50 mph, and the natural feel for that road is 45 mph," Councilman George Williams Jr. told the committee.

The town asked the S.C. Department of Transportation to review the speed limit in the late 1990s. The department recommended increasing the limit to 45 mph for all of Palmetto Bay Road, but the council objected.

Edwards worried that increasing the limit on Palmetto Bay Road would make it less safe for drivers turning left at the traffic signal at Point Comfort and Arrow roads. The road curves there, so there's limited sight, especially when vehicles are in the opposing turn lane, he said.

Committee chairman and Councilman Bill Harkins said increasing the limit on the bridge and then dropping to 40 mph on Palmetto Bay Road would be too much of a "jolt" for drivers. Keeping the speed to 45 mph until the shopping center makes getting on and off the bridge "seamless," he said.

Capt. Toby McSwain of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office told the committee Nov. 7 that a more appropriate speed limit might ease enforcement.

"We think it's a good decision," McSwain said then.

Also, the committee unanimously recommended the town manager find about $6,000 to install thermoplastic domes along the toll bridge. The domes would act as "rumble strips," alerting drivers who veer too close to bicyclists, joggers and walkers who use the bridge's shoulders.

Committee members had asked staff to find ways to separate vehicle and non-vehicle traffic on the bridge. The DOT, however, said it will not allow a barrier between traffic lanes and the "breakdown lanes," which must remain for disabled vehicles, Shoemaker said.

Shoemaker could not recall an instance of a motorist striking a bicyclist or pedestrian on the bridge. Nevertheless, committee members said more should be done to improve safety for walkers and bicycle riders.

"There are a lot of distractions that can happen driving over the bridge on a nice day," Harkins said.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead

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