Shuttles, parking fees, food trucks: Is this Hilton Head’s future?

Traffic moves through Sea Pines Circle in May
Traffic moves through Sea Pines Circle in May Jay Karr

Shuttles, parking fees and food trucks could be among the changes on Hilton Head Island’s beaches next summer as the town works to reduce traffic on the south end.

Hilton Head Island Town Council approved those recommendations Tuesday from the Circle to Circle Committee. It also approved setting up an ad hoc committee that will work to get some of the suggestions in place for next tourist season.

Mayor David Bennett said its critical the plan does not end up on a shelf.

“I think this recommendation has a strong likelihood of resolving some of the issues in our community,” Bennett said. “I want to move on this quickly.”

The committee was set up by the town more than a year ago to tackle traffic congestion in and around Sea Pines Circle. After more than 40 meetings and public forums, the committee submitted its report to the council Tuesday.

I don’t want to see this sit and languish for months and months. Our citizens need to see that this process worked and it worked quickly.

David Bennett, Hilton Head Island Town mayor

Shuttles running from off-site parking to Coligny Beach is one of the many recommendations coming from the report. It says parking could be utilized in the Crossings Park area.

Committee chairman Jim Gant said the hope is that off-site beach parking reduces traffic moving through the circle. He said it also federal funding could be used to set up the shuttle system.

Multiple recommendations focus on directing beach-goers to underused beaches on the island such as Burkes and Driessen beaches.

“If we can start to shift just a small percentage away from the Coligny beaches, we think it would have an impact on the Sea Pines Circle,” Gant said.

Reducing or removing parking fees at those beaches and then adding a fee to Coligny Beach parking, which is currently free, is one way to do that, Gant said.

Suggestions for what these fees could be were not included in the report.

Another way to draw tourists to other beaches would be to add amenities such as splash pads and playgrounds, Gant said.

The addition of food trucks could also draw visitors to the under-used beaches.

A market campaign letting tourist know about the alternative beaches should also be in place by the 2017 season, Gant said.

North Forest Beach resident Kathy Barr said she supports the committee’s suggestions, citing what she calls an “explosion” in traffic in the area since she moved here in the 1990s.

“Everything is finite in this universe,” Barr said. “It is like putting water into a vessel that is only so large. At a certain point you can only fill it so high.”

Spreading beach traffic to other beaches will make the experience more enjoyable for everyone as well as safer, Barr said. She said heavy vehicle traffic puts pedestrians at risk.

“There are a lot of families, a lot of little kids crossing streets down there,” Barr said. “It has to be safer. You can’t keep dumping and dumping everyone into one site.”

Gant told the council that immediate action is needed to have changes in place by next summer.

“It is incumbent on all of us to take action in the next 30 to 60 days if we want to implement this next year,” Gant said.

Town Councilman David Ames is one of six-members who will be on the ad hoc committee. The directive - come back to the council with a plan in six weeks on how to implement some of the recommendations by next summer.

“The goal is to expedite this process,” Ames said. “The committee will prioritize and vet these ideas to the extent so that council can say ‘yes, these are worth pursing.’”

The plan should include costs for project, Ames said.

“Clearly this would require a mid-year adjustment to the budget,” Ames said. “Anything we try to do between now and next year is going to have consequences on our budget that has already been established for this year.”

Bennett said despite those costs, implementing the project quickly is important.

“I don’t want to see this sit and languish for months and months,” Bennett said. “Our citizens need to see that this process worked and it worked quickly.”

Teresa Moss: 843-706-8152, @TeresaIPBG