Beaufort leaders must do more to show they know what they are doing with the Boundary Street project.
A recent last-minute move to get utilities buried is not a good indication for a project that was approved in 2006. That preliminary work should have been finished a long time ago. But instead, the public was given sudden choices on how to pay for the burial of power lines. It will be tacked on to power bills. Why it could not be paid for within the $26.8 million budget for the project was not fully discussed.
The city also needs to remind the public why it is doing this project in the first place. The concept has been discussed at least since 1999, and it was approved in 2006. But residents have lingering questions as to why the main thoroughfare into and out of Beaufort needs such drastic change.
Community outreach is in order. The project must be sold again as it moves from concept to concrete reality.
The best way to do that is through regular updates given to the public, and avoiding 11th-hour uncertainty on things like burying the utilities.
The project is a partnership among the city, Beaufort County, the S.C. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. It will realign the Boundary Street and Robert Smalls Parkway intersection and narrow Boundary Street with the addition of medians, bike paths and a more pedestrian-friendly sidewalk. A parallel road is to run on the north side of Boundary.
On maps, the route U.S. 21 takes to the islands off Beaufort now goes through Parris Island Gateway rather than Boundary Street, now labeled U.S. 21 Business.
But in reality, Boundary Street remains the city's primary artery and it stays busy. It is an odd street to make slower and more narrow.
The city sees great value in a more aesthetically appealing, pedestrian-friendly gateway to downtown.
And it foresees improved safety. The medians are to eliminate a middle "suicide lane" and reduce places where motorists can make left turns across traffic. A planner hired by the city told the public that medians reduce pedestrian accidents by more than 40 percent; reduce motor vehicle accidents by more than 15 percent; decrease traffic delays by more than 30 percent; and increase road capacity by more than 30 percent.
Construction jobs always seem messy and unending. Nobody ever said this project would be easy. But the city needs to do better than it did on burying utilities to convince the public it is up to the task.