After a setback earlier this week, the Bluffton Parkway flyover project now appears back on track.
Beaufort County Council's Public Facilities Committee voted unanimously Friday to advance two contracts -- one for flyover construction and another for construction management -- setting the stage for a final vote at Monday's County Council meeting.
With that vote, the committee might have dealt a final blow to an alternate plan offered by Councilman Stu Rodman.
"I think the flyovers are a good idea, and I am going to vote for them," said Councilman Steve Baer, who represents part of Hilton Head Island, where concern about the flyover is greatest.
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Councilman Rick Caporale, who also represents part of the island, said he hasn't made up his mind after expressing doubts about the flyovers this week.
"I'm going to vote in favor of this today," he said, "but it's still possible that I will vote against it on Monday."
The current flyover design would create a new road starting at Buckingham Plantation Drive that crosses the marsh between The Gatherings and Buckingham Landing. Two flyover bridges would connect the east and west lanes of U.S. 278 to the Bluffton Parkway, near the bridge to Hilton Head.
Rodman's plan would retain the elevated crossing over the marsh but eliminate the flyover bridges. Instead, the elevated road would end at a T-intersection near where Fording Island Road Extension meets U.S. 278, requiring a traffic light.
County officials and consultants essentially made their closing arguments Friday for the current design, spending nearly an hour explaining the history of the project, the rationale for the flyover and the likely repercussions if the design were to be changed.
County administrator Gary Kubic told the crowd of about 25 people in the county's executive conference room that it would take between three and five years to get permits and plans for a new design.
And that would mean the county would forfeit a $15 million state grant, according to S.C. Department of Transportation Commissioner J. Craig Forrest.
The flyover project is expected to cost no more than $45 million.
In addition to the loss of a funding source, Rodman's plan might exacerbate problematic intersections on U.S. 278, according to county traffic engineer Colin Kinton.
On Friday, he offered traffic data explaining how the flyover plan would remedy those problems by funneling more cars directly onto the parkway. He added that Rodman's plan has possible safety and environmental problems.
Baer spoke for 15 minutes, attempting to refute nearly every argument against the current flyover plan.
"What's worse -- being stuck in traffic or passing through ... a flyover?" he said.
Baer also said the view some say the flyover will obscure is nothing to write home about: He showed slides of power lines, roads and swampy areas. Views of the marsh, he said, might actually be enhanced from the elevated flyover.
Walter Nester, attorney for Tanger Outlets, said his clients invested $50 million in the property in 2010 based on the assumption that the flyover would be built. He said they remain supportive of the current proposal.
Rodman, whose plan seemed to gain momentum Tuesday when the Hilton Head Town Council withdrew its support for the current flyover design, suggested the county has talked itself into a design it didn't really need. He argued it would be wiser to use his plan and add the flyover in the future, if it becomes necessary.
Rodman also produced a report by Tallahassee, Fla.-based Hall Planning & Engineering Inc. to support his claims.
He spoke after a half-dozen county officials and consultants endorsed the flyovers. Given a chance to explain his alternative, Rodman was interrupted several times by committee chairman Gerald Dawson, asking him each time to "wrap it up."
The flyover has plenty of detractors, but only a couple spoke at Friday's meeting. Hilton Head Town Councilman Bill Harkins asked that the county slow the process and seek a third-party review of the current proposals and others that might arise.
R.R. Dawson Bridge Co. is the low bidder for the flyover work. The county has selected F&ME Consultants as a construction manager. The two contracts are worth about $40.5 million combined.
If the contracts are approved, the work is expected to begin soon. Construction is expected to take about 30 months.
- Kubic to Rodman: Who reviewed your flyover plan?, Feb. 21, 2013
- Hilton Head rebuke adds wrinkle to Bluffton Parkway flyover fight, Feb. 20, 2013
- 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