In many parts of Beaufort County, particularly the more rural areas north of the Broad River, the lack of sidewalks forces pedestrians to make a decision: risk walking in the street or in the grass that often grows tall and wild on the side of the road.
Neither choice is a good one, some county leaders say.
A sales tax increase referendum rejected by voters in November would have raised more than $7 million for sidewalk improvements and installation.
With that money off the table, county officials are left searching for a Plan B.
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Adding sidewalks is a “really important safety need,” Beaufort County Councilman Brian Flewelling said earlier this week.
“Everyday I see people walking at night in the road because there is no sidewalk,” he said. “... It gets to be very dangerous.”
There are moms pushing baby carriages and kids waiting for the school buses in the (roadway) because there is nowhere else for them to be.
Beaufort County Councilman Brian Flewelling
There have been more than 50 fatal accidents involving pedestrians in Beaufort County since 2000, according to data from the S.C. Highway Patrol.
Flewelling said there “are people in wheelchairs who have to ride in the road in order to get to the grocery store or to work.”
“There are moms pushing baby carriages and kids waiting for the school buses in the (roadway) because there is nowhere else for them to be,” he said.
Councilman Gerald Dawson echoed his colleague’s concerns, calling the lack of safe sidewalks a “critical issue.”
“When traffic is coming, people have to literally get off the road and into high grass,” he said. “There is a (possibility) you could be hit by a car or ... be bit by a snake.”
County staff has identified 19 sidewalk projects north and south of the Broad River that could help reduce the danger for pedestrians.
The cost is estimated to exceed $18.8 million, according to county traffic engineering director Colin Kinton.
Earlier this week, Flewelling called on County Council to make it a priority during upcoming budget planning sessions to find $2 million every year for the next 10 years to incrementally complete the projects.
The Beaufort County Transportation Committee, which has a budget partially subsidized with money from the state, could be one potential source of funding, Flewelling suggested.
“There also have to be some grant opportunities we could be taking advantage of — like federal highway funds,” he said. “We need to make a commitment to aggressively going after these funds.”
While county officials begin the process of identifying revenue streams for sidewalks, Dawson instructed staff to start prioritizing the projects. That will allow the county to tackle the most urgent ones first once funding is secured.
County leaders will begin next fiscal year’s budget preparation in earnest during an annual retreat in February.