Bluffton Parkway's Phase 5B has long been an infrastructure afterthought for Beaufort County leaders -- and it should remain so.
Approved eight years ago, the project would straighten the road between Buckwalter Parkway and Buck Island Road, eliminating a "dogleg."
County officials say the completion of the project is necessary so that, at some point in the future, Bluffton Parkway can be extended without interruption to Interstate 95.
We agree that the project would serve a public safety function, creating an alternative hurricane evacuation route for southern Beaufort County. Should a storm hit in the peak of tourist season, U.S. 278 might very well be too congested to move residents and visitors to safety at top speed.
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But a second argument that the project would serve as an economic development driver, opening up hundreds of acres for development, is not convincing. Costly road projects such as this should not be done for the sake of fickle private developers who may or may not decide to build, depending on a laundry list of factors.
And yet, the public safety argument has failed to gain adequate traction to get the project done. On two occasions, county leaders had the chance to fund it, but chose to pursue other roadwork projects instead:
Now that Beaufort County Council has rightly decided not to put a referendum on the November ballot to raise the sales tax by 1 percent, it's unknown just when Phase 5B will be funded.
Town of Bluffton and county officials are preparing an application to the State Infrastructure Bank, again asking for money for Phase 5B.
With regret, we doubt the application will be successful.
The state legislature, whose members must approve the money the bank doles out, is overwhelmed with infrastructure requests. Lawmakers and the gubernatorial candidates are grappling with how to fund the S.C. Department of Transportation's request for $700 million a year for the next 20 years from the infrastructure bank. Many are for road and bridge repairs that, if not done soon, pose immediate safety risks -- not possible risk should a hurricane hit.
Additionally, many of these projects are in cash-strapped counties that, unlike Beaufort County, lack alternatives for raising the money. For example, Beaufort County has both the permanent population and the tourism numbers to pay for the project with a sales-tax increase, assuming voters signed off on it. Many of the state's poor, rural counties do not have that option.
Given this reality, Phase 5B will likely have to wait until Beaufort County Council and voters agree to another increase in the sales tax. Council could consider one as early as 2016.
We would hope 5B would be included on the list of projects. Then, voters will have the say on whether it's truly worth doing.