Old Town Bluffton has a ghost problem -- and it's not caused by things that go bump in the night, but by bumps in its roads.
Bluffton's historic core is pocked with public rights-of-way that have existed on town maps since they were surveyed in 1913, but are not owned by the town or other public bodies, such as Beaufort County or the S.C. Department of Transportation, according to Bluffton transportation project manager Karen Jarrett.
Although many of these so-called "ghost roads" exist in some form, others have been overtaken by trees and other vegetation, leaving the century-old survey and other historic documents the only reminder that the roads were ever there.
Many of the ghost roads are in use as dirt roads around Old Town. Some, such as Green Street, are well-traveled parts of the neighborhood but don't receive the same level of maintenance as government-owned roads, Jarrett said.
Acquiring the rights-of-way would allow the town to improve them, either by paving them or laying down gravel, Jarrett said.
The town has worked for years to identify the 1.3 miles of ghost roads in Old Town, but until Tuesday, little had been done to acquire them. That could change after Bluffton Town Council directed Jarrett and the engineering department to present a prioritized list of roads the town should acquire at September's meeting.
The land won't come at a cost because the land is public, but the process of obtaining the roads could take some time, Jarrett said.
Jarrett has worked on the ghost roads project intermittently during the last four years, and before that, other departments took on the problem. In addition to the 1913 survey, Jarrett said the engineering department used a file on the ghost roads prepared by the town's growth management department that never was acted on.
Two of the ghost roads -- Maiden Lane and Dubois Lane -- have been paved, but it isn't clear who originally laid the asphalt. The town overlaid Maiden Lane after a sewer project was completed on the street, Jarrett said.
The paved roads aren't as wide as other roads in the neighborhood, so the town could widen the roads if they acquire them, Jarrett said.
Taking control of the roads will also prevent planned roads that haven't been built from being lost, town officials said.
Jarrett said four roads that extended to the May River in the 1913 survey were acquired by landowners and built over, blocking access to the waterfront. Private development along the roads could encroach on the public right-of-way, like a carport erected by a property owner at the southern end of Colcock Street, Mayor Lisa Sulka said.
In areas where the roads were never built, nature has overtaken the route. North of Bruin Road, a heavily wooded area was found to be a planned road called First Avenue. The road was part of a corridor that included the paved Maiden Lane and would have extended south to Lawrence Street at the tip of Heyward Cove. South of Maiden Lane, the road's path is overgrown and unused.
Were the town to acquire the rights-of-way and build roads, it could open parcels for development that currently lack road and sewer connections, town officials have said.
Matt Logee, who owns property at the end of Lawton Street, said during Tuesday's public-comment period that his land did not currently have a road connection, requiring him to either build his own connection to Lawton Street or wait for the town to build the road for him to be able to develop his property.
The need for access to develop those areas was also cited in 2005, when the town considered constructing the roads mapped out near Heyward Cove. However, Sulka and Jarrett said preserving the historical right-of-ways was important as well, even if roads aren't built on them.
"They thought (the roads) were important 100 years ago," Jarrett said. "We need to be proactive before they are boggled or messed up."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.
- Bluffton weighs reopening streets, April 30, 2005