Hilton Head council OKs request for faster speed limit

tbarton@islandpacket.comDecember 20, 2011 

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If you're feeling the need for more speed on the island's toll bridge, you just might get it.

Hilton Head Island Town Council on Tuesday signed off on a staff and committee recommendation calling for increasing the speed limit from 40 to 45 mph on the Charles E. Fraser Bridge on the Cross Island Parkway.

Council voted 6-1, with Councilman Lee Edwards opposed, to ask the state to increase the limit.

The limit would also increase on Palmetto Bay Road to 45 mph up to the Bridge Shoppes shopping center, just north of Target Road. The speed limit would remain 30 mph within the toll plaza and 35 mph approaching Sea Pines Circle.

Questions about the appropriateness of the speed limit have persisted since the Cross Island opened in 1998. The Greater Island Council wrote the town several months ago recommending changes be considered.

The town asked the S.C. Department of Transportation to review the limit in the late 1990s. The department recommended increasing it to 50 mph on the bridge and 45 mph for all of Palmetto Bay Road, but the council objected.

Today, council members argue the speed limit is too low for what the road is designed for. It encourages people to break the law and creates a perceived "speed trap" that leaves tourists with a negative image of the island, they said earlier this month.

No one spoke on the topic during the meeting. Edwards, however, said after the meeting that residents living off Palmetto Bay Road oppose a faster limit. They argue drivers would exceed the higher limit and put residents more at risk as they traveled to and from their homes.

Edwards, who lives off Palmetto Bay Road, shares their concerns. He worries increasing the limit 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.

Town traffic engineer Darrin Shoemaker said the SCDOT has indicated it will approve the proposal. He'll submit a request in January, but was unsure when the new speed limits would take effect.

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office has also said it supports the proposal. Officials there said a more appropriate speed limit may ease enforcement.

Council also directed the town manager Tuesday to 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.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead

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