You may sit in traffic less while traveling to and from Hilton Head Island if a plan to widen a stretch of U.S. 278 gets final approval.
The project, which would widen the roadway from four to six lanes on Jenkins Island — a 1.05-mile tract from the foot of the J. Wilton Graves Bridge to the causeway onto Hilton Head — was approved Wednesday by the Hilton Head Planning Commission.
Its next stop is Town Council. If approved there, construction will begin as soon as possible, according to Colin Kinton, the Beaufort County director of transportation and engineering.
The goal of the $7.4 million project is to improve safety and efficiency on 278, according to a presentation Kinton made to the Planning Commission Wednesday. While not a cure-all, the project would alleviate some of the heavy congestion in the area, he said.
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“The project is not a silver bullet to solve all of the congestion problems along 278,” said Anne Cyran, a senior planner for the town. “What we’re looking at today (is) the widening and safety improvements on Jenkins Island.”
Jenkins Island, which includes Windmill Harbour and the Hilton Head RV Resort and Marina, is split between the Town of Hilton Head and unincorporated Beaufort County.
The project will be paid for by the county, which approved a bond to finance it more than a year ago, Kinton said. The town will be asked to donate some land in order to widen the road.
In addition to widening the lanes, the project will:
▪ Close current median crossovers: one at the entrance to Windmill Harbour and one at the entrance to the Hilton Head RV Resort and Marina
▪ Partially close the median crossover at Blue Heron Point Road to prevent left turns onto 278 heading off the island
▪ Build a new median crossover 600 feet east of Jenkins Road
▪ Construct “bulb-outs” for U-turns at Blue Heron Point Road and Jenkins Road
▪ Install two traffic signals. One eastbound signal will be installed just before Blue Heron Point Road, affecting traffic going onto the island. The westbound signal will be placed just before Jenkins Road and affect traffic going off of the island.
According to town documents, the new signals will “reroute” left-turns to U-turns, which will reduce congestion for through-traffic and reduce the possibility of collisions.
According to an analysis by town staff, 79 accidents have happened in the project’s area over the past three years with at least one of them a fatality.
Discussions about the project have been ongoing for at least a decade, Kinton said. Town documents show it has been studied by the S.C. Department of Transportation.
If Town Council approves it, construction is expected to be completed by early 2019. Any lane closures would take place at night to limit the impact on traffic, Kinton said.
Dozens of Windmill Harbour residents attended the public hearing at Town Hall, and many expressed support for the project. Concerns were raised about safely entering and leaving the community.
“We’ve had so many close calls — it’s daily,” said Mike Garrigan, the chair of the Windmill Harbour traffic committee. “We hear constantly from vendors and guests that it’s very dangerous to go in and out of Windmill Harbour. I don’t care if it’s six lanes or 10 lanes or 20 lanes, somebody’s going to get killed in front of Windmill Harbour. And that’s the message I’m bringing to you today. We’ve got to do something to improve public safety at Windmill Harbour.”
As part of the project, Beaufort County and SCDOT are discussing lowering the speed limit on Jenkins Island from 50 miles per hour to 45 mph, Kinton said.