A plan to add two, one-directional traffic lights near Windmill Harbour was shot down Tuesday by the Hilton Head Island Town Council.
The proposal also included widening U.S. 278 from four to six lanes from the foot of the J. Wilton Graves Bridge to Squire Pope Road on Hilton Head.
After a 2-4 vote, with only council members Tom Lennox and Kim Likins in favor of the proposal, council directed staff to come up with a new comprehensive road plan for between Gumtree Road on the island and Moss Creek.
Town manager Steve Riley criticized the council’s decision.
“This is just further delaying on a safety problem,” Riley said. “I’m frustrated with all of you that you would do something like this.”
Mayor David Bennett and other opponents on Town Council, however, said the proposal was a piecemeal fix. Bennett also said the island’s millions of visitors would be subjected to a stoplight as they come off the bridge and as they exit the island.
Council member Marc Grant said the native island community in the Squire Pope Road area had not been considered when discussing widening U.S. 278 to six lanes. He said it was already difficult for residents to walk across the road, and adding a six lane freeway could hurt the community.
“We need to stop compromising on certain things,” he said. “Native islanders are always compromising and being left out.”
Supporters of the project cited the dangers for drivers entering and leaving Windmill Harbour and nearby communities such as Heron Point and Mariners Cove.
“The number of accidents and potential accidents cannot be understated,” said Mike Garrigan, Windmill Harbour resident. “With the flyover coming this summer, we are going to be in worse shape. We have got to have a solution.”
Supporters said the stoplight plan was the quickest, lowest-cost solution and would cause the least environmental damage.
In the past the town has backed building a frontage road that would allow residents a safer way to enter and exit U.S. 278 but would not add traffic lights to U.S 278. That plan would cost $14 million but would not involve widening U.S. 278. The traffic light plan with the widening would cost $12 million.
Darrin Shoemaker, town traffic engineer, said town staff decided to back the traffic light plan because, among other things, widening U.S. 278 would more than offset the slowdown in traffic caused by the lights.
Each light would also only stop traffic going one direction: Eastbound traffic along U.S. 278 would hit a light at Blue Heron Point Road, and westbound traffic would hit a light about 500 feet east of Jenkins Road.
The plan was developed over the past year and completed in November by a consulting firm, which was hired by Beaufort County to address safety concerns on the unincorporated section of the highway on Jenkins Island. The county plan would widen the road to the end of Jenkins Island. Shoemaker had recommended council endorse the plan on the condition that the widening be extended to Squire Pope Road.
Shoemaker added that, after that section was widened and with the Bluffton Parkway flyover being completed, that would put pressure on the S.C. Department of Transportation to eventually replace the bridges.
Councilman Bill Harkins was concerned, though, that the road projects were not being coordinated with future bridge replacement.
“What we could be embarking on are improvements that do not connect properly to the new bridges,” he said.