Beaufort County Council and Windmill Harbour residents have endorsed a new plan to improve safety on U.S. 278 on Jenkins Island, where the highway intersects with the community's entrance.
The plan would improve safety along a dangerous portion of the highway, which could become more congested when the Bluffton Parkway flyover is completed, according to Ernie Lindblad, a Windmill Harbour property owners association board member.
"It's all about safety," said Lindblad, who is also on the community's traffic committee. "The flyover, in our estimation, has become a game changer."
The plan -- which the county hopes will be completed in tandem with the flyover project -- would replace dangerous left turns on to westbound U.S. 278 with additional right turns, county administrator Gary Kubic said.
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Any final designs or projects related to U.S. 278 must be approved by the S.C. Department of Transportation, but the county's endorsement Monday should help sway the department, Kubic said. He plans a presentation to Hilton Head Town Council seeking its endorsement, as well, before sending it to state officials.
The department of transportation could fund the improvements with about $1.4 million allocated to improve the intersections by the Lowcountry Council of Governments last year, Kubic said.
There currently are three median crossovers on the mile-long stretch of U.S. 278 on Jenkins Island, at Blue Heron Point Road, Crosstree Drive and Jenkins Island Road. Drivers can make left turns to U.S. 278 west at Blue Herron Point and Crosstree.
"Those crossovers are inherently difficult to maneuver," Kubic said.
To make the intersections safer, the Blue Heron Point crossover would be closed and the left turn to westbound U.S. 278 would be eliminated at the Crosstree intersection, county traffic engineer Colin Kinton told County Council on Monday. The left turn from U.S. 278 west to Crosstree Drive would remain open, he added.
Instead of the existing left turns, a new section of Blue Herron Point Road would connect to westbound U.S. 278 on the north side of the highway at the base of the J. Wilton Graves Bridge, Kinton explained.
Blue Heron Point Road runs under the bridge and connects to a back exit of Windmill Harbour, which would give drivers in the neighborhood an option to circle under the bridge and take a right turn on to U.S. 278 west, Lindblad said.
County Councilman Rick Caporale is satisfied the changes would help improve "a dangerous place" on the highway.
"This may be our last chance to fix one of the real hot spots on 278," Caporale said at the council's meeting Monday. "This is a bad one. Now's the time to do it, as Mr. Kubic said, before the flyover is done."
The Town of Hilton Head Island is aware of the proposal to extend Blue Heron Point Road to create an entrance to westbound U.S. 278, according to town traffic engineer Darrin Shoemaker, but hasn't studied it thoroughly. The town hasn't received any specific plans or concepts illustrating the median closings, he added.
The town previously proposed a frontage road from Jenkins Road to Blue Heron Point Road, which would have eliminated a need for all three median crossings, Shoemaker said. That plan became too costly when the state transportation department told the town that the frontage road would have to include a bridge over salt marsh, quadrupling the project's cost to $6 million, Shoemaker said.
The county's proposal is an improvement and is more cost effective, but it might not be a long-term solution for the Jenkins Island median crossings, he said.
"It only results in one and a half median crossovers, if you will," Shoemaker said. "It doesn't provide the opportunity to close all three crossovers, which, in an ideal world, would be what we'd like to see."
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.
- Bluffton flyover opponents make final push; County says recent ad distorts facts, Feb. 18, 2013
- Beaufort County vows Bluffton Parkway flyover costs won't soar, Feb. 9, 2013
- Hilton Head town panel endorses Bluffton Parkway bridge flyovers, March, 12, 2012
- Town committee list of projects for 2013 include Coligny, Windmill Harbour, Oct. 13, 2011