Opponents of the proposed Bluffton Parkway flyover have launched a final effort to derail the project, just days before Beaufort County Council is expected to vote on the construction contract.
One such group, calling itself Citizens to Stop the Flyover, purchased a large advertisement in Sunday's edition of The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, arguing the planned flyovers to connect U.S. 278 with the parkway are an expensive eyesore and should not be built.
The advertisement also leveled criticism that the work would be given to an "out of state, federally mandated labor-union wage construction company."
That assertion drew strong rebuke from project's low bidder and an admission from the media consultant leading Citizens to Stop the Flyover that a portion of its ad was inaccurate.
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Ellis Hefner, chief financial officer of Lexington, Ky.-based R.R. Dawson Bridge Company, said the firm can pay any wage it wants as long as it exceeds the prevailing wage for this area.
"The ... company is not a 'labor-union wage construction company' as we are not signatory to any union contacts and truly operate as an open-shop contractor," added Hefner, in an email Monday to the newspapers and Tom Gardo of Citizens to Stop the Flyover.
The company also disputed the ad's claim that South Carolina companies could not bid on the work, noting that two of the six bidders were in-state. What's more, R.R. Dawson has been working in South Carolina for nearly two decades, Hefner added.
The ad and related "grassroots effort" to defeat the flyover project was created by Gardo and a handful of island residents, including Tom Hatfield, Gardo said. Gardo acknowledged the ad contained inaccurate information about the contractor that won't be used again.
County administrator Gary Kubic called the ad misleading during County Council's Finance Committee meeting Monday and chastised the newspapers for running it. He says a photo of a highway ramp used in the ad looks nothing like the current design.
"We accept political advertising but do not control the content of the ads," said Sara Borton, publisher of the Packet and Gazette. "Views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the newspaper."
The current flyover design calls for a new roadway starting at Buckingham Plantation Drive that crosses the marsh between The Gatherings and Buckingham Landing. Two flyover bridges would connect with the eastbound and westbound lanes of U.S. 278 to the Bluffton Parkway near the bridge to Hilton Head.
The project, which county voters endorsed as part of the 2006 penny transportation tax, is expected to cost about $45 million, a figure that includes the $36.7 million construction contract, construction management and a $4 million contingency budget for cost overruns and improved aesthetics.
County engineering director Rob McFee said R.R. Dawson has agreed to extend the current bid price for just 10 more days. That extension will expire if council doesn't approve the contract during its Monday meeting.
"We are down to the 11th hour," Gardo said Monday, adding many people thought the project wouldn't be built because of funding problems.
After initial uncertainty, the county says it has enough money from local, state and federal sources to complete the project.
Gardo's group favors a scaled-down proposal offered by County Councilman Stu Rodman, which would keep the elevated crossing over the marsh but eliminate the flyover bridges. Instead, a T-intersection with a traffic light would be created near where Fording Island Road Extension meets U.S. 278.
Rodman, who said he is not involved with Gardo's group, argues his design is cheaper and would preserve the look of the area, which many consider the "gateway" to Hilton Head.
Others on council have said they are skeptical of Rodman's plan.
It's unclear how much it would cost to change project plans.
County Council's Public Facilities Committee is expected to hold a lengthy hearing on the flyover Friday to discuss the current plan and alternatives.
Hilton Head Town Council is expected to vote tonight on whether to contribute as much as $1 million to improve the look of the flyovers after they are built. Council will meet at 4 p.m.