Drivers frustrated by traffic back-ups on the Cross Island Parkway as swarms of visitors leave Hilton Head Island on Saturdays will get some relief starting this weekend.
The S.C. Department of Transportation will open a third cash lane at the Cross Island Parkway toll plaza for traffic heading off the island on Saturday mornings.
The extra lane will be open from 7 to 11 a.m. every Saturday beginning tomorrow through Sept. 1. The move is intended to improve traffic flow during peak demand.
Cash lanes accept cash, as well as Palmetto Pass automatic electronic payments.
"Saturday mornings are pretty heavy as people check out of condos," state DOT toll operations manager Marge Dorey said Thursday. "Traffic slowed down during the recession but picked up last year. People coming into Hilton Head Island do so throughout the day, whereas people checking out leave en masse. That's why there's such a back-up of traffic leaving the island on Saturdays."
Currently, there are four lanes, including two cash lanes, open at all hours in each direction for those coming onto and off Hilton Head.
A fifth lane is available but reserved for a hurricane evacuation. However, an update of DOT software means that lane can now be used, Dorey said.
Monthly traffic on the road increased 4.5 percent, from 649,468 trips in March 2011 to 678,708 in March 2012, according to DOT data.
"Within the past two to three years we have started to hear more and more inquiries and complaints about backups getting off the island in the morning on Saturdays," town traffic and transportation engineer Darrin Shoemaker said. "We want folks to get their money's worth using the toll road. Drivers are paying the toll to save 10 to 15 minutes on their travel time, and we want them to save the full amount of time and not have that lessened because they're sitting in line at the toll plaza."
The one-way toll for using the parkway is $1.25 in cash or 75 cents for cars equipped with a Palmetto Pass.
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