County receives $5M from state, closing gap on flyover project

The Bluffton Parkway flyover project, on hold for months amid funding uncertainty, is now back on track.

Beaufort County has received an unexpected $5.4 million windfall in local-option transportation taxes, closing a shortfall in the estimated $45 million project that would connect U.S. 278 and Bluffton Parkway, officials announced Tuesday.

County administrator Gary Kubic said the money was raised from the 1-percent transportation sales tax that expired last October. It wasn’t immediately known how that money accrued, or whether over-collections from local merchants contributed to the windfall.

Regardless, with the money in hand, Kubic expected council to begin reviewing the proposed $36.7 million construction contract with R.R. Dawson Bridge Co., of Lexington, Ky.

Once the contract is approved, the county can work with the contractor to trim costs -- a process known as value engineering.

"The most important thing with this news is, it allows County Council to go to the Public Facilities Committee and make a recommendation to enter into agreement with the apparent low bidder," Kubic said Tuesday. "Once that is approved by County Council, I have the ability then to sit down with the construction company to do value engineering on the project."

County engineering director Rob McFee said the flyover project, including construction, aesthetic improvements, contingency funds and rigorous state and federal inspections, is projected to cost $45 million.

The project would start at Bluffton Parkway's intersection with Buckingham Plantation Drive and extend over the marsh between The Gatherings and Buckingham Landing. Ramps would connect eastbound and westbound lanes of U.S. 278 to the Bluffton Parkway.

Although work was expected to begin late last year, construction was delayed after bids came in about 7 percent higher than expected. County officials discovered an estimated $5 million shortfall last fall, and subsequently sought new state aid and considered borrowing to close the gap.

Kubic said taking on new debt to pay for the project is now off the table.

"Obviously, receiving an unexpected $5 million for this project is terrific news. It enables us then to get to the next level without having a debate as to the merits of borrowing money for project," he said.

Although the funding breakdown will change with the new 1-percent money, the funding sources remain the same. The county is using impact fees, 1-percent sales tax money and about $15 million in state and federal aid to pay for the flyover work.