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Tired of your bumpy Beaufort County commute? These road projects could help soon

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Drivers in Beaufort and Jasper counties should notice smoother commutes in some areas in 2019, including a large stretch of interstate, according to state transportation officials.

Current projects in those counties total more than $25 million and include almost 30 roads, with millions of dollars in new contracts expected to be awarded in January and February, wrote S.C. Department of Transportation commissioner J. Barnwell Fishburne in a recent letter, touting the work. Fisburne sent similar messages to constituents throughout South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District.

The state’s crumbling roads and bridges are receiving aid from a 10-year SCDOT plan funded by a 2017 statewide gas tax increase, Fishburne said.

DOT’s recent statewide push to repair potholes is one area the additional money has been evident, said Beaufort City Councilman Mike McFee, a member of the Lowcountry Area Transportation Study committee that considers road projects. Residents can call a hotline or submit a request through an online portal to report a pothole and have it repaired.

“They are just asking the eyes on the street to tell them where these things are,” McFee said. “And that’s obviously in response to the added gas tax and DOT’s commitment to trying to turn that around.”

Among the work underway or expected soon, according to Fishburne:

  • A project expected to be contracted out in February to pave 10 miles of I-95 between Yemassee and Ridgeland at mile markers 23 to 33.

  • Six active paving projects in Beaufort and Jasper counties totaling 29 roads and more than $25 million of work. Current work includes resurfacing multiple streets in downtown Beaufort and a facelift for part of May River Road in Bluffton, DOT maps show.
  • Five contracts to repave 10 roads in Beaufort County expected to go out to bid in January and February. A project to seal cracks on U.S. 278 in Bluffton is in the design phase and a maintenance project planned on Ribaut Road in Port Royal has yet to be awarded, according to DOT.
  • Two contracts expected to go to bid this month that include two roads and a network connecting to U.S. 17. DOT maps show rumble strips planned for numerous roads off of U.S. 17 near Gardens Corner.

State Sen. Tom Davis, a Beaufort Republican who filibustered the gas tax increase for multiple legislative sessions before the law passed, said some reforms came from the effort, including more scrutiny of how money is spent and an increased level of responsiveness from DOT about road needs.

There was no doubt state roads needed work and the effort to block the tax hike was not for lack of needed money but to push for more accountability in how money would be spent, Davis said. He noted that the state transportation commissioners are now appointed by the governor instead of lawmakers so that one person bears responsibility for DOT projects.

He wasn’t successful in arguing for the same from the board of the state Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which manages the purse for larger roads and bridges projects.

“I think that dollars are starting to be spent in a more responsible and objective way,” Davis said. “We still have a system that is vulnerable to political pressure. You take your victories when you can find them.”

In addition to the road repairs throughout Beaufort and Jasper counties, Davis said he is hopeful for the chances of a grant from the transportation bank to overhaul U.S. 278 at the bridges to Hilton Head Island. State engineers are still evaluating options for possible improvements, but county officials have said widening the bridges or building a new crossing are among the possibilities.

Beaufort County voters approved $80 million toward the estimated $240 million project as part of a penny tax passed in November. DOT has set aside another $40 million.

Gov. Henry McMaster offered a letter of support for the matching grant, and local delegates expect to complete an application soon before pitching the bank board, Davis said.