With construction complete on the J.E. McTeer Bridge, residents will have a new hurricane evacuation route from the Sea Islands to the mainland.
Last year, residents were directed to use the Richard V. Woods Memorial Bridge from Lady's Island into downtown Beaufort because two lanes of the McTeer span were still under construction.
The bridge opened to traffic last fall.
"The only difference is over on Lady's Island/St. Helena," Beaufort County emergency management director Todd Ferguson said. "In the past, folks coming off of Sams Point (Road) had been making a right on (U.S.) 21 and going over the Woods Bridge. They no longer do that. They're going to go straight across, and it'll be two lanes going across the McTeer Bridge."
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After crossing the McTeer Bridge, motorists will merge with drivers in Port Royal and Beaufort and be directed along U.S. 21 toward Sheldon, or down S.C. 802 by Parris Island Gateway to reconnect with U.S. 21 in Burton.
Ferguson said residents need an evacuation plan now that will help them secure their homes, protect their pets and get out of town.
"It's not convenient, but there's no reason for anybody to stay behind after a lawful, mandatory evacuation order is called," he said. "If people hurry and leave, the better it will be."
Port Royal town manager Van Willis said he doesn't expect the new route over the McTeer Bridge to have much effect on town residents, but he suggested they familiarize themselves with the route now.
The new route should reduce evacuation traffic in downtown Beaufort, but city manager Scott Dadson said emergency personnel will remain prepared for the inevitable traffic that will come over the Woods Memorial Bridge.
Both Port Royal and Beaufort are coordinating their evacuation preparations with the county to accommodate the route change.