Take a drive down one of Hilton Head Island's bumpy dirt roads and the safety concerns become apparent.
School buses, ambulances, fire trucks and police cars can have a hard time navigating around the pot holes and preventing their wheels from getting stuck in the muck. When it rains, the flood-prone roads can become treacherous. One slip on wet mud and a rollover into a ditch can follow.
Hilton Head Town Council has doubled its financial efforts to acquire private dirt roads. Its intent is to eventually pave them.
But the doubling of effort doesn't amount to much. Instead of purchasing two dirt roads this year, the town plans to buy four. Town Council has agreed to spend $50,000 instead of the usual $25,000 on preliminary work to acquire the four roads near Spanish Wells and Squire Pope Road. The money will pay for the legal and engineering work to start condemnation.
We agree with Town Councilman Marc Grant that four roads per year is not enough. At this rate, it will likely be decades before the town acquires the more than 70 private dirt roads on the island. The town currently owns 13.
The town must do more to get these dangerous roads paved. It's a public safety issue worthy of more attention -- and more money.
Part of the problem is the arduous purchasing process. Since most of the roads run through heirs' property -- land handed down through generations with no clear title-holder -- town staff has to find and alert all of the title-holders and get their permission to condemn the property. As town engineer Scott Ligett has said, one road can cut through 18 properties with 80 title-holders. And there's no guarantee all of those title-holders want the new paved road to infringe on their land.
Even when the town gets permission of all of those involved, the dirt road currently goes on Beaufort County's paving list. It can take years between placement on the list and asphalt on the ground.
There's nothing the town can do to speed up the process by which it gains heirs' approval for condemnation.
But there may be more it can do for those roads already on the paving list. Town leaders should confer with the county to see if there is a way to work together to speed up the process. Perhaps the two could split paving costs.
And Town Council should make road paving a priority, designating more money for the effort and developing a plan to hasten the pace. If the town eventually has to go it alone on the paving work, so be it.
The problem has been placed on the back burner for too long while less-worthy projects have taken precedence.
Paving dirt roads could save residents more than just a few headaches; it could save lives.