Construction to widen S.C. 170 is still months behind schedule and new lanes won't be open until the end of the year, according to Beaufort County engineers.
The delay also has some residents in the Mill Creek community worried the construction is creating a dangerous intersection at the entrance to their neighborhood. S.C. 170 is being widened from two to four lanes between S.C. 46 to U.S. 278.
County officials extended the completion date for the $15 million project for the second time this month. Delays in getting a state environmental permit last year led officials to postpone the original May deadline to this month, county engineering director Rob McFee has said.
Now, contractor Cleland Site Prep says it won't be able to open all four lanes to traffic until the end of the year, McFee said Wednesday.
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Even then, Cleland won't be able to lay the final two inches of pavement and permanent lane markings until about March, when weather is warmer, county traffic engineer Colin Kinton said. In the interim, the lanes will be safe for cars and tires, just incomplete, he said.
"It needs to be warm for (the pavement) to go down, so while we may have all four lanes open, it'll be with temporary striping," Kinton said. "The surface they've got now on the new lanes will be there, and then they'll add an additional two inches of asphalt to make it perfect."
This week, Cleland Site Prep shifted traffic to the newly paved lanes -- which eventually will be two westbound lanes -- so it can begin clearing the eastern shoulder of the highway and pave eastbound lanes, Kinton said.
However, the traffic shifts and construction have many Mill Creek residents fuming about dangerous traffic conditions where Mill Creek Boulevard and Gibbet Road meet at the highway, according to resident Katherine Swanson.
With hundreds of families trying to enter and exit the highway from those two roads, the intersection needs a traffic light to prevent traffic accidents, Swanson contends. Each of the past two days, drivers have narrowly missed hitting Swanson and her husband as they turned onto and off of the highway, she said.
"Next Monday, when school starts, oh my gosh, it is frightening to think about," she said.
Traffic engineers are already planning that light, but they won't be able to seek S.C. Department of Transportation approval and install it until after widening is complete, Kinton said.
"With the amount of growth going on in Mill Creek and the way the intersection is going to be at the end result, we're going to need to put one in," he said. "In the meantime, we're going to start moving forward with planning and design on the signal so we're not waiting to react."
By next spring, though, the light might be too late, Swanson warned.
"So we've got from mid-August until next spring; that's a really long time to have all of these families coming in and out," Swanson said. "There's going to be a horrible, horrific accident in front of Mill Creek sooner or later. When they open the four lanes up, it's inevitable."
To try to prevent any collisions, Cleland updated pavement markings at the intersection, installed two additional stop signs and put up an electronic message board in Mill Creek to urge drivers to be cautious, Kinton said.
The rest of the S.C. 170 project has been plagued with problems this year.
In March, Cleland crews accidentally cut a Hargray Communications fiber optics cable along the highway while relocating utilities, disrupting TV, Internet and telephone service for thousands of Hargray customers.
In April, county engineers learned that DOT would require thicker asphalt on the road to meet state standards, driving up costs by an estimated $732,000. County officials argue the change is a result of faulty design and should be paid by Cleland or design firm Thomas and Hutton.
The project is still expected to finish at or under budget, despite that change and the further delays, county attorney Josh Gruber and McFee said Wednesday. The work is being paid for with a mix of federal, state and county funding, and the county's share comes from a 1 percent sales tax for transportation projects approved by voters in a 2006 referendum.
However, the county initially expected the widening to be well under budget, Gruber said. It could use any savings to help pay for other referendum projects, such as the Bluffton Parkway flyover or Boundary Street improvements, Gruber said.
"(The cost) hasn't been formally resolved yet," Gruber said. "That's what we're monitoring for now, to see what the savings might otherwise have been and see where we might need to go from there."
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.
- Beaufort County should not have to pay if costs for widening SC 170 increase, officials say, April 18, 2014
- 'Significant' Hargray outage blamed on cut cable, March 6, 2014
- Lights out for US 278, SC 170 intersection, Feb. 16, 2014
- US 278 widening completed; SC 170 project behind schedule, Dec. 4, 2013