Construction began this week on a highly anticipated new entrance to the Target Center plaza on U.S. 278 in greater Bluffton.
The project will convert a three-way intersection in front of the shopping center into a four-way intersection, creating a central entrance that county traffic engineers expect most motorists will use.
"We had planned for this intersection to be a four-legged intersection for several years," said Colin Kinton, a traffic engineer for Beaufort County.
"It had been in the works for a long time, but the new Dick's Sporting Goods was the catalyst to make it happen," he said.
Developer Stafford Properties is paying for the new entrance, but the company said it's still not clear when the project will be finished or how much it will cost. "That's a moving figure," said Will Euart, leasing agent for Stafford Properties, which owns most of the complex.
The work is being performed by Walterboro contractor J.H. Hiers Construction, which could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Euart acknowledged there is a provision in Dick's lease calling for the new entrance to be built, but he said the project was "in the works before they came along."
Pittsburgh-based Dick's is expected to open its first Bluffton location on Sept. 5. The company is occupying the roughly 30,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by Goody's clothing store, which closed in 2008. Mae Dawkins, who lives in Ridgeland and works in the plaza at Advance America, says the new entrance should be an improvement, especially for drivers heading west out of the shopping center.
"It will be nice to have an entrance and exit right out here," she said Thursday, gesturing toward a wooded area that will be cleared to make way for the new driveway.
The plaza already has at least four ways in and out, but no direct link to the westbound lanes of U.S. 278. Drivers must either head east and make a U-turn at Burnt Church Road or leave via S.C. 46 or the Bluffton Parkway. Other stores in the plaza include Staples, Starbucks and a Honeybaked Ham Store.
Although Stafford Properties is paying to build the entrance, the county will continue to maintain traffic signals after the new one is in place, Kinton said.
Although the work has only been going on four days, Dawkins said she's ready for it to be finished.
"It'll be nice, but right now it's taking up all the parking," she said, adding that it's become hard to find a space during the morning coffee rush. "I'm waiting to see how it all turns out."