What may feel like a never-ending bridge to Hilton Head Island is actually four separate ones, and S.C. Department of Transportation officials confirmed this week that one span really needs to be replaced.
SCDOT will replace the first bridge heading eastbound over Mackay’s Creek as part of the U.S. 278 corridor improvement project. Construction on the bridges and corridor are scheduled to start after 2021, according to the project website.
In the first newsletter related to the project, SCDOT announced the replacement of the 1956 bridge and identified other project goals: Address the other three bridges, improve access to Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge and C.C. Haigh, Jr. boat ramp.
One sticking point in the newsletter is the goal of the project, which SCDOT project coordinator Craig Winn wrote “is to increase capacity, with resulting improvements in mobility and traffic congestion.”
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Increasing capacity on the bridge isn’t welcomed by all islanders, specifically those who live at the foot of the bridge and worry that more lanes will encroach on their property.
“If this road comes, it’s going to tear up this whole area,” one resident said at a Dec. 19 public input meeting. “Think of the Stoney community as if you lived there.”
In January, the town appointed a U.S. 278 corridor committee to give input to SCDOT on the project. The committee was tasked with representing all island interests, but especially the communities surrounding U.S. 278.
The committee has met several times, and is currently arranging tours of the Windmill Harbour and Stoney communities to get a better understanding of how families in those areas would be affected.
‘That doesn’t mean it’s going to crumble’
SCDOT’s announcement that this span of the bridge will need to be replaced doesn’t come as a surprise to town officials — or likely anyone who has driven over the aging bridge from Bluffton.
“It’s at the end of its useful life,” assistant town manager Josh Gruber said in December of the first eastbound bridge. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to crumble, but it’s ready to be replaced.”
Replacement of the Mackay Creek bridge was the original intent of the project, which was then incorporated to include the entire U.S. 278 corridor after Beaufort County voters passed the transportation tax in November, Gruber said.
The corridor project will cost $240 million, and the transportation tax will raise $80 million for the Hilton Head project. The remaining amount needs to come from SCDOT and the State Infrastructure Bank — which has a competitive application process where Hilton Head is up against cities such as Charleston for money.
Hilton Head officials are confident that the local participation through the transportation tax will make the island’s application stand out.
In the meantime, SCDOT is moving forward with the environmental assessment process to determine how several different alternatives will affect the natural and human environment of the island.
The next public information meeting presented by SCDOT will be in Spring 2020, according to the project website.