Panel makes safety of Island West drivers a priority

achristnovich@islandpacket.comApril 1, 2012 

A county transportation advisory group recommends that $800,000 be spent to provide Island West drivers with a safer route to U.S. 278.

The recommendation by the Beaufort Transportation Advisory Group was prompted after several residents complained to Beaufort County Council in January that an eastbound acceleration lane and westbound left-turn median would be lost to the widening of the highway.

An alternative proposed by county engineers would add two segments of pavement to an existing service road to create a continuous new route to the highway. The first segment would add a 1,000-foot road linking Island West Boulevard to a service road westward behind the Stokes Brown Toyota dealership on 100 Fording Island Road. The second would link the other end of the service road to a short paved outlet running off U.S. 278, just west of the dealership.

County Councilman Jerry Stewart said the plans backed by the advisory group are confusing and don't match plans he was given in the past. He said the project and residents' safety is "of the utmost importance" in all the county's road projects.

"We have residents here who are severely impacted by what's happening," he said. "It's just a matter of making sure it's the most reasonable solution for the long term."

Island West is represented by Councilman Weston Newton.

Island West Homeowners Association treasurer Bill Krominus said he and other residents wanted a shorter, more direct route, but called the current access plan better than nothing.

"You get what you get," he said. "This is the recommendation (the county) came up with."

The project would be funded with money from a county 1-cent sales tax program for frontage roads off U.S. 278, the county's chief financial officer, David Starkey, said.

County administrator Gary Kubic recommends the new route be built soon.

"The timing of improvements for those residents right now can correspond with the widening of U.S. 278 and be a smooth transition for those folks," he said at the advisory meeting.

County engineer Colin Kinton said his department has been working with Island West residents to create a route that would meet drivers' needs without costing too much.

"The consensus was that this was the best connection from a cost standpoint," Kinton said. "There's the opportunity for additional routes to be added in the future ... but this one is the lowest cost right now."

The S.C. Department of Transportation has said a stop light can be placed at an outlet off U.S. 278. The potential to eventually have a traffic signal at Island West's main access point, Kinton said, is another reason the new route was planned to connect where it does.

Even if the light is never installed, the proposed intersection would be safer than the current configuration, Kinton said, because the new intersection would at least have safe turn lanes.

The transportation advisory group voted unanimously to recommend funding the project. County Council must approve the plan before construction can begin. Stewart said he expects to discuss the issue at the panel's April 9 meeting. However, the state will ultimately determine when traffic is heavy enough to warrant installing the light, he added.

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