Years of roadwork along U.S. 278 and extensions to Bluffton Parkway should ease congestion and make storm evacuations smoother.
Meanwhile, work should not hamper efforts to get out of southern Beaufort County if a hurricane forces an evacuation, said state transportation and county officials.
"All lanes on U.S. 278 will still be open, like they are now, and should not hinder the evacuation route," said U.S. 278 construction project manager Brent Rewis .
The highway's shoulders also should offer plenty of room for disabled vehicles to pull off the road, avoiding traffic jams if there is an accident or breakdown, Rewis said.
The S.C. Department of Transportation is widening a 5-mile stretch of U.S. 278 from four lanes to six, from S.C. 170 to Simmonsville Road. Construction is expected to end in November 2013.
Currently, there's too little roadway along U.S. 278 to handle evacuation traffic leaving Hilton Head and Bluffton. That will force the S.C. Highway Patrol and the DOT to use the inside eastbound lane on U.S. 278 to reverse traffic where it merges with the Cross Island Parkway at Spanish Wells Road on Hilton Head to Moss Creek in Bluffton.
The highway then widens from four to six lanes to Simmonsville Road, where it narrows to four lanes to Interstate 95, requiring another lane reversal.
"Once we're done with road construction, that will give us three lanes westbound to S.C. 170 without a reversal," county emergency management director Todd Ferguson said.
A 1-mile stretch of Bluffton Parkway between Burnt Church and Malphrus roads opened to traffic April 23 after more than a year of construction. A four-lane divided highway now links the roads and is part of a multi-phase plan to reduce traffic on U.S. 278 and create a quicker evacuation route off the island.
Construction on a 3-mile extension of the parkway, which will run from Malphrus Road to Buckingham Plantation Drive, is expected to be completed by the end of July, according to Robert McFee, county director of engineering. Together, the two phases will cost $11.6 million.
Beaufort County is reviewing construction bids for the final 1.2-mile stretch that would connect Buckingham Plantation with U.S. 278. Construction could begin this fall, McFee said.
Another phase of the project will build two flyovers at Buckingham Landing and connect the parkway with U.S. 278. Renderings of the flyovers show them arching over the marsh near Buckingham Landing.
Construction on the flyovers could also start by this fall and last about 30 months, McFee said.
The flyovers and parkway extension will create an alternate route off the island to S.C. 170. The goal is to stretch the parkway evacuation route to I-95, McFee said.
"For purposes of evacuation, getting traffic to S.C. 170 doesn't solve the entire problem, because they're still not out of the county," McFee said. "But when all is said and done, Hilton Head residents will have two options instead of one to get off the island, and some residents in Bluffton will be able to bypass 278 altogether and use Bluffton Parkway to get out."
A mix of federal, state and local money is paying for the road projects. The county share comes from impact fees and a 1-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2006.
- Bluffton Parkway extension to open for drivers Monday: April 20, 2012
- Advisory panel backs seeking state money to build flyover bridges: March 22, 2012
- Hilton Head council reluctantly supports flyover bridges: March 20, 2012
- State funding for flyover bridges available, pending county approval: Feb. 27, 2012