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Beaufort Co. has started paying for Hilton Head US 278 project. Where does it stand?

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S.C. Department of Transportation must close lanes when they replace the rubber sealant between bridge decks.
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S.C. Department of Transportation must close lanes when they replace the rubber sealant between bridge decks.

As of May 1, Beaufort County residents and visitors are officially paying the “penny tax” for the U.S. 278 corridor project and others.

In the project’s first newsletter since the penny tax began, S.C. Department of Transportation officials have announced the public will hear the official set of alternatives for the corridor on Sept. 19, 2019.

The corridor has been a priority for several years, especially the first bridge heading east over Mackay’s Creek — which was built in 1956 and has been deemed “at the end of its useful life” by state and town officials. SCDOT engineers are also looking to remedy the hours-long gridlock in the corridor during peak traffic times.

Passed by referendum in November 2018, the transportation tax is a 1-cent increase on all sales taxes in the county for four years or until it raises $120 million for the project and two others in the county.

SCDOT’s newsletter hinted to what some of the options for the U.S. 278 corridor may be.

“During the Alternative Development Process a range of alternatives will be considered and evaluated, including the no-build option, mass transit, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, and ride-sharing,” the newsletter said.

Prior to breaking ground on corridor improvements, SCDOT performs a two-year review of human and environmental impacts of any changes to the corridor — as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Per that schedule, SCDOT officials have performed technical studies and briefed local officials. Now, they are developing and analyzing the alternatives before the public meeting in September.

Traffic on Hilton Head bridges

Part of analyzing the alternatives means taking a look at traffic on the bridges.

As summertime travel ramps up between Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, SCDOT engineers are trying to find alternatives that account for massive fluctuation in traffic patterns.

The newsletter explains that the project team is using the 30th highest day of traffic of the year in the corridor to analyze intersections.

“This value represents more cars on the road than under ‘average daily’ conditions. Additionally, it accounts for the seasonal tourists without over-designing the roadway for the busiest day of the year, which could result in constructing too many lanes and using more public infrastructure dollars than appropriate for the community’s needs,” the newsletter said.

Too many lanes is exactly what concerns residents at the base of the bridge who live in the Stoney community.

“Two more lanes isn’t going to solve the problem,” Belinda Stewart Young said in March as hundreds of cars whizzed by her family’s front door on U.S. 278. “I think it’s just going to make traffic worse.”

US278WideningFutureDM_02.jpg
Belinda Stewart Young, a part time resident when she cares for her mother at her parents home near Cora Lee Lane and U.S. 278 on Hilton Head Island, talks about how the family had to move the mailbox about 50 feet from the highway “because they (drivers) kept hitting it.” she said on Thursday morning. The one percent transportation tax that started on Wednesday, May 1 will be used to alleviate congestion and build more sidewalks and pathways in the county. Some of that money will be used to replace at least one span of the Hilton Head bridge and holds the possibility of adding lanes if the S.C. Department of Transportation suggests that would help alleviate congestion. Residents in the Stoney neighborhood on Hilton Head say that adding another lane to U.S. 278 would have a tremendous impact on their multi- generational land. Drew Martin dmartin@islandpacket.com

The second newsletter released this week appeared to respond to those concerns.

“The traffic engineering team is working to reach a balance between widening roads and managing traffic through improved traffic signals, access management, and signage,” it said.

The rest of the funding for the project

The corridor project will cost $240 million, and the transportation tax will raise $80 million for the corridor 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 early June, the Lowcountry Area Transportation Study (LATS) policy committee voted to support the corridor project’s application to the state infrastructure bank.

“They supported this application over others, that’s why its important to see this happen,” Ward 6 representative on Hilton Head Island Town Council Glenn Stanford said of the vote.

LATS is the body responsible for allocating federal funds for local use, Stanford said.

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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.
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