The widening of U.S. 278 in Bluffton and Okatie is running ahead of schedule, but drivers will have to wait several months before all six lanes are open.
Although the work might appear to be nearly done to passing motorists, some sections still need a final layer of pavement, said Chris Smith, a construction engineer with the S.C. Department of Transportation who works in Beaufort County.
APAC Southeast of Savannah also must finish grading and planting work on road shoulders and widening a bridge over the Okatie River, Smith said.
"It's a little bit ahead (of schedule)," he said Monday. "... I would expect (the work) would finish by the end of October or early November, weather permitting."
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Work began in November 2011 and is formally scheduled to end Dec. 15.
The $23.6 million project involves widening the highway from its intersection with S.C. 170 in Okatie to Simmonsville Road in Bluffton. The road was widened to six lanes from Simmonsville Road east to Moss Creek several years ago.
Beaufort County spokeswoman Joy Nelson says paving the eastbound lanes should be finished by the end of July, and work on the Okatie bridge is also nearly completed.
Smith says all six lanes probably will open at the same time after all work is finished, rather than piecemeal.
"It's a phasing thing, and comes down to whether they would want to open the third lane and have that bottleneck," he said, adding that keeping a lane closed makes construction easier.
"We need to maintain two lanes in each direction, and to facilitate construction, it's a lot easier to keep one lane closed. It allows us to do day work."
The ultimate decision on lane openings is up to the contractor. An APAC Southeast manager on Monday afternoon asked that questions about the project be sent by email. APAC's responses were not received by press time.
FLYOVER, S.C. 170 WIDENING
County officials say contractors are making progress on the two other major projects underway in southern Beaufort County.
Contractor R.R. Dawson Bridge Co. of Lexington, Ky., has begun staging equipment, including a crane, to begin construction on the Bluffton Parkway flyover, which will link the parkway with U.S. 278 near the bridges to Hilton Head. The project, which includes construction of a 4,200-foot-long bridge segment over the marsh and 4,500 feet of road improvements, is expected to take about 30 months.
Meanwhile, the S.C. 170 widening to four lanes from S.C. 46 to U.S. 278 has moved to the "earth moving" phase, according to the county. The county says most of the utilities along the 4.5-mile stretch have been relocated. The $16 million construction project, conducted by Cleland Site Prep of Ridgeland, should be done by next May.
"We do apologize for any inconvenience these projects may cause for motorists," said Rob McFee, the county's director of engineering, "but ultimately, when the projects are complete, driving in or around Bluffton will be much safer and convenient for locals and tourists alike."
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.