Beaufort News

Beaufort Hospital's plans hinge on Buckwalter roundabout

Beaufort Memorial Hospital wants to build on a 20-acre parcel in Bluffton, but access to Buckwalter Parkway could be a sticking point.

The hospital is purchasing the land on U.S. 278 and planning a 40,000- to 60,000-square-foot medical-arts facility.

Beaufort County Council members showed support for the project during Monday's Finance Committee meeting but argued over how to connect the site to existing roads.

Initial engineering plans call for a roundabout on Buckwalter Parkway about 750 feet south of U.S. 278. A frontage road would run west from the rotary, pass the hospital property and meet Lost Oaks Drive.

However, county standards for Buckwalter Parkway call for 2,000 feet between traffic lights, and Councilman Jerry Stewart said the plan would put the roundabout too close to the traffic light on U.S. 278.

He said using a roundabout rather than a typical intersection helps circumvent the problem but doesn't fully address the concern.

Stewart suggested the connection be a "right in, right out" intersection, providing no break in the Buckwalter Parkway median. Vehicles could not turn left off of the frontage road.

David Tedder, a member of the Beaufort Memorial Board of Trustees, said a traffic study indicates the facility would need a full intersection at Buckwalter Parkway. He said the hospital's board would not likely move forward without one.

"It just doesn't work for us," Tedder said. "And we'll drop back, it'll be another two-year process to find the land to build over there."

Councilman Bill McBride said the county should be flexible and trust the hospital's traffic estimates.

"You could have the best facilities in the world at that site," McBride said. "If people feel that they cannot get in and get out safely, it's going to die."

Stewart said he would like the intersection moved further from U.S. 278.

Tedder said that isn't an option.

"There are physical impediments to dropping this road down further south than you see it now," Tedder said. "You have wetland impacts that would prevent it from moving further. You have ownership issues on the southern tracts below this that we cannot resolve at this particular time."

Councilman Steve Baer said the county could compel those property owners to sell.

"Can't we use eminent domain to get some of that land if it's the right thing for everyone?" Baer asked.

The proposal was tabled for two weeks.