Town of Hilton Head Island leaders already have signed off on a new University of South Carolina Beaufort campus on the island's south end and will work out details of how the campus will look in June.
But they do not have up-to-date data on how the new campus and its 200 students will impact the perennially congested Sea Pines Circle roundabout. That won't be available until this fall.
The situation is unacceptable to some Sea Pines Resort residents who fear the new campus will further debilitate the much-used circle on the south end of the island and create long delays for drivers. A small but vocal group of island residents list traffic as a primary reason why they oppose the $29.5 million, publicly funded campus that will be built on Office Park Road.
"This is not a game," Sea Pines resident Karl Engleman said. "It's serious business, and the whole affair is truly a scandal."
As one of the USCB campus' most fervent opponents, Engleman has attacked the town's proposals and harpooned a study of the campus' anticipated effect on Office Park Road traffic that was completed early last year.
The study, by long-time town traffic consultant SRS Engineering, concluded that the new campus and its eventual 400 students would not clog the circle beyond the town's standards, which are adapted from federal guidelines.
The roughly 980 extra vehicles through the circle each day are predicted to cause some delays, including up to two minutes for drivers approaching from Palmetto Bay Road, according to the study. But even then, the circle still operates within the town codes' 2.5-minute maximum delay.
But the calculations at the Sea Pines circle are based on traffic count estimates -- not current traffic counts at the circle, Engleman said. The SRS study performed traffic counts along Office Park Road in February 2014 but used 2010 traffic data for the circle, when it was last collected, and estimates what current data might look like, said town traffic engineer Darrin Shoemaker.
Anecdotally, Engleman and other Sea Pines residents have guessed that they will be caught in three- to four-minute delays at the circle when it's most congested.
They argue the town's study is bunk because it uses 2010 data collected in the lows of the recession. But tourism -- and the traffic it brings -- has rebounded along with the economy, they say. Joined by former Town Councilwoman Kate Keep, Sea Pines Community Services Associates member Joe Kernan and other Sea Pines residents, Engleman wants the town to reconsider the plan.
"The study is pure garbage," Engleman has said. "Put garbage into the computer and you get garbage conclusions out ... You don't need to be a traffic engineer (to see the effect). You need basic mastery of grade school arithmetic, you need common sense and you need to believe in fate."
Shoemaker and SRS principal Todd Salvagin contend the study is valid and goes above and beyond what a developer at the campus site would be required to do.
It also does not skirt problems that would be created by the campus, as opponents claim, said town manager Steve Riley. The study concludes that more than $1 million in improvements must be made to Office Park Road's intersections with Pope Avenue and Greenwood Drive to handle the new traffic.
The town plans to start making all of the improvements in the next year and a half, Riley said.
- Realigning the intersection of Office Park and New Orleans roads at Pope Avenue.
- Widening Office Park Road at Pope Avenue to add more turning lanes.
- Adjusting portions of the median at the intersection of Greenwood Drive and Office Park Road to open more space for drivers to turn onto and out of Office Park Road.
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The larger and more important question, according to Riley, is how the town's focus on redeveloping the Coligny area will impact the traffic circle.
The town's new Circle to Circle Committee is studying redevelopment on the south end and has asked Shoemaker to craft a more comprehensive June traffic study than in years past. In addition to conducting Sea Pines Circle traffic counts, the study will include more detailed data collection and analyze the effects of future redevelopment along Palmetto Bay Road to the Forest Beach Drive corridor. All of those results will be available this fall, Riley said.
"I think that was a valid and accurate study (last year)," Shoemaker said. "But I think everybody recognized recently, several months back, that we needed to do more. That's what's generated this south-end traffic study master plan effort."