The stretch of S.C. 170 that passes through greater Bluffton should be widened from a bumpy two-lane road to a smooth four-lane highway by fall 2014.
But as the $25 million widening project is close to getting started, the road is steadily breaking down. Heavy rains over the past two weeks have speeded up the process, turning long sections into a craggy moonscape.
The good news for drivers: Relief is in sight.
Jason Dunn, project manager for Cleland Site Prep, the contractor for the widening, said the company's crews have begun filling potholes and fixing blemishes on the highway between S.C. 46 and U.S. 278.
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If the weather cooperates, he says, even the deepest gashes soon will be dug out, filled with asphalt and permanently patched.
"Within the next few weeks, the traveling public should see a huge difference in the rideability of the road," Dunn said.
The bumpy stretch of S.C. 170 has long been showing its age. But nearly 10 inches of rain this month hastened its deterioration.
Christopher Smith, S.C. Department of Transportation resident construction engineer for Beaufort County, says water is a main cause of potholes.
"Potholes are formed when the rainwater sinks through cracks in old and weakened pavement," he said. The water and traffic eventually cause the asphalt to erode and create bone-jarring bumps.
Smith confirmed that Cleland will perform the pothole repairs on the state road. The company is responsible for those repairs as part of its contract for the widening, he said.
Construction has yet to begin on widening the corridor, but the next stage of preparations is expected to begin soon. Smith says trees that line the road are scheduled to be removed starting next month to make room for the new lanes.
Beaufort County officials say construction crews won't start applying new pavement until this fall at the earliest. Based on that timetable, the project should be finished in the summer of 2014.