Hilton Head Island Town Council's rejection of Beaufort County's flyover plan has sparked new uncertainty about the $45 million project.
With County Council preparing for a final vote on the flyover Monday, some of its members say the Hilton Head decision won't affect their support of a project intended to improve traffic flow and emergency evacuations. However, others are becoming wary of the design, which critics say will ruin the appearance of the gateway to Hilton Head without solving traffic problems.
"I know that all of the conversation has had an influence on me, and I have been responding to people that I probably will not be able to support the project in its present form," said Councilman Rick Caporale, whose district includes part of Hilton Head.
His comments came a day after Hilton Head Island Town Council withdrew its support for the flyover as currently designed. That vote followed an ad Sunday in The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette that criticized the flyover. County officials and the R.R. Dawson Bridge Co., the low-bidder for the flyover construction, called the ad misleading and inaccurate.
Never miss a local story.
County administrator Gary Kubic released a statement Wednesday saying Hilton Head council's vote is "troubling." He called an alternate plan offered this month by County Councilman Stu Rodman "unproven" and said it could have "adverse environmental components affecting local waterways."
Kubic reiterated that the final decision on the flyover rests with County Council members, some of whom are not swayed by the Hilton Head vote.
"I believe we have to do what is best for the traffic situation for Hilton Head, Bluffton and southern Beaufort County on a long-term basis," Councilman William McBride of St. Helena Island said Wednesday. "I am still optimistic about the project."
Longtime flyover supporter Steve Baer, who represents part of Hilton Head, said he's interested in seeing traffic data for the flyover and Rodman's alternative plan before deciding. But he's wary of the alternate plan.
"I believe the Town Council acted on a prejudicial picture and incorrect data and a propaganda ad in the Packet. I prefer to base my thinking on real computer data," he said.
County voters endorsed the flyover as part of the 2006 penny-tax transportation referendum. The current design is expected to cost no more than $45 million, which includes construction and other costs. That money comes from local sources and from $15 million in state and federal money that likely will be lost if the current design is changed, county spokeswoman Joy Nelson said.
It's not clear if future state or federal funding would be in jeopardy, she said.
However, Hilton Head Mayor Drew Laughlin, the Town Council's lone flyover supporter, believes bucking the plan now could hurt funding for road improvements in Beaufort County.
"We talk about the importance of regionalism and working with each other -- this does nothing to promote that," Laughlin said of his council's vote Tuesday.
Many of the arguments brought up at the council meeting are similar to ones he heard more than 15 years ago in debates about whether to build the Cross Island Parkway.
"It was a very divisive issue. It tore this place apart for two or three or four years," Laughlin said, adding the parkway is largely considered a success now.
Laughlin said he doubted that the flyover opponents at Tuesday's council meeting were representative of the entire island.
"No matter how long a project has been in the works, there's going to be some people who somehow didn't hear about it until the very end," he said, adding that the current flyover plans have been discussed for years.
Councilman Bill Harkins disagrees.
"If there is one thing that everybody on the island says is important, it's the aesthetics and environmental appeal of Hilton Head, and anything that puts that at risk becomes a rallying point for virtually all islanders," Harkins said. "I think we heard from a strong sample of them last night."
Harkins, George Williams and Lee Edwards voted in favor of the flyover when council unanimously supported it in March 2012. Councilwoman Kim Likins was absent for that vote. However, each opposed the flyover Tuesday night.
Harkins said he endorsed the project last year on the condition that it would be "aesthetically pleasing" to his constituency, but said that would be an "impossible task" under the current design.
Despite initially supporting the project -- believing that alternative designs were being considered -- Edwards has been an outspoken opponent of the flyover, vowing in October to block its construction.
"Big, ugly flyovers are not what we need," he said Tuesday, adding: "I think they are over-designed and not right for our area. ... Most importantly, we are stuck with them forever."
Williams said Tuesday that he was undecided about how he would vote before eventually pulling his support of the project. Attempts Wednesday to contact him for comment about why he opposed the flyover were unsuccessful.
- Hilton Head Council votes to yank support for Bluffton Parkway flyover plan, Feb. 19, 2013
- Bluffton flyover opponents make final push; County says recent ad distorts facts, Feb. 18. 2013
- Beaufort County vows Bluffton Parkway flyover costs won't soar, Feb. 9, 2013
- County receives $5M windfall, closing gap on flyover project, Jan. 29, 2013
- Hilton Head council reluctantly supports flyover bridges, March 20, 2012
- $1 million set aside for flyover beautification could be used elsewhere on Hilton Head, Feb. 20, 2013