County receives $5M windfall, closing gap on flyover project

After months of uncertainty, the $45 million flyover project connecting Bluffton Parkway with U.S. 278 apparently is back on track.

Beaufort County has received nearly $5.4 million in unexpectedmoney for transportation from the state, enough to close a $5.2 million shortfall that emerged late last year.

With the money in hand, council can review the proposed $36.7 million construction contract with R.R. Dawson Bridge Co., county administrator Gary Kubic said.

"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," he said Tuesday.

Once the contract is approved, Kubic said, county staff can negotiate with the contractor in search of "efficiencies" to lower the cost.

The $5.4 million came from the S.C. Department of Revenue, which collects, then remits local-option sales taxes to counties and municipalities. The county's penny transportation sales tax expired Oct. 1, 2012. The payment was for money received during the last three months of 2012 -- a period after local collections were supposed to have ceased.

David Starkey, the county's chief financial officer, said he expected some "residual" money from the tax, but the arrival of $5.4 million came as a shock.

"It was a nice, unexpected surprise, that's for sure," he said Tuesday.

Starkey believes some kind of "lag time," possibly stemming from merchants filing their quarterly sales taxes late, explains the windfall. He says it's unlikely much of the money came from scattered merchants that continued to charge the 1 percent tax after it expired.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue said an explanation on the payment was not immediately available.

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

County engineering director Rob McFee said the flyover project, including construction, features to improve its aesthetics, contingency funds and rigorous state and federal inspections should cost about $45 million.

The Town of Hilton Head, meanwhile, is considering a $1 million contribution toward the cost of beautifying the project.

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 the estimated $5 million shortfall last fall and sought new state aid -- and even considered borrowing money -- to close the gap.

Kubic said borrowing is now off the table.

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.

County officials would not say when construction might begin.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

Related content:

Hilton Head panel supports $1 million for flyover beautification, Jan. 1, 2013

County faces $30 million shortfall on road projects, Dec. 8, 2012

Flyover no longer seen as a certainty, Nov. 3, 2012