Newly released plans for construction on Pope Avenue in 2019 has both residents and business owners worried the south end will need to survive another traffic nightmare during next year’s tourist season.
On Monday, town officials presented the plan for a two-year construction project to build the Lowcountry Celebration Park in the Coligny area at a public information session. Many business owners and area residents said they do not want a repeat of last year — a construction project that took three months longer than expected and interrupted visitor traffic for the entire summer.
The Coligny-area park has been in the works for years, and town engineer Jeff Buckalew presented the project in two parts: first, roadwork on Pope Avenue, South Forest Beach Drive, Tanglewood Drive and Nassau Street that will allow access to the park, and then the development of what project manager Chris Darnell has called a “game-changer park.”
The project now includes resurfacing all of Pope Avenue — from Sea Pines Circle to Coligny Circle — and must be completed by May 24, 2019, or the contractor will face a damage fine of $1,000 per day.
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Buckalew said the resurfacing should be able to be completed within a few weeks of its start date, and that it must be done in spring because crews cannot lay asphalt when the temperature is below 55 degrees. Since work will take place overnight, resurfacing on Pope Avenue cannot start until March.
He added that the resurfacing will require lane closures, but SCDOT prohibits straight lane closures on Pope Avenue during the daytime. However, turning lanes may be worked on during the day which could cause traffic delays and backups.
At the meeting, business owners along Pope Avenue seemed mostly concerned about the project’s timeline pushing too close to tourist season.
Lee Lucier, co-owner of Local Pie, told Buckalew that another summer of unplanned construction delays could devastate sales at his business on New Orleans Road.
“This could be catastrophic to the largest local business sector on the island,” Lucier said. “This is a scary, scary schedule.”
Barbara Maniotis, who owns It’s All Greek To Me! on Lagoon Road, said that she’s excited for the uptick in business that she hopes the park will bring — but that the tourist season for her restaurant really begins in March, not June.
This year, the Island Packet reported record-breaking tourism during the spring break season, and the number of vehicles crossing the Hilton Head bridge peaked around Easter week.
This means that all of Pope Avenue will be resurfaced as her restaurant is expecting more visitors, but Maniotis said she is giving the town “the benefit of the doubt” when it comes to finishing the project before Memorial Day weekend.
Town officials assured business owners at the meeting that the work must be done within this window to ensure proper weather conditions and that the project will stay on track to be done by summer.
Big events affected
Others are concerned about the construction affecting springtime traditions on the island.
The Hilton Head St. Patrick’s Day Parade announced Monday on Facebook that the event will take place on Pope Avenue on March 17, but representatives expressed concern at the meeting that the route will not be walkable during the construction.
Buckalew suggested that the parade committee set up a private meeting with the town to discuss how the parade will be affected. Scott Liggett, Hilton Head’s director of public projects and facilities and chief engineer, told the Island Packet that construction will likely be paused for the parade to take place.
Other community members were concerned about the project interfering with Easter weekend, which coincides with the final round of RBC Heritage presented by Boeing in 2019.
Resident and chair of the island’s Bicycle Advisory Committee Frank Babel said he was worried that Pope Avenue construction would disrupt the thousands of visitors moving between Sea Pines and the Coligny area for the beach and golf tournament.
Last year, RBC Heritage saw 135,000 visitors at the tournament.
Repeat of 2018?
Road construction is a sore spot for south end business owners because the intersection of Pope Avenue and Office Park Road was disrupted for a University of South Carolina Beaufort hospitality campus project this summer.
The USCB project was expected to be completed in June to prepare for the fall semester and to avoid disrupting the intersection Pope Avenue and Office Park road further. The project was not completed until August, and Town Manager Steve Riley called it “one of the more frustrating projects” in recent years as the Sea Pines Circle was gridlocked several times due to tourist traffic and construction.
Riley said at an August Town Council meeting that the bidder for the new project is not the same subcontractor that was used for the USCB project.
Buckalew said that several delays and backups last summer were “anomalies” that occurred when contractors performed work on a Saturday by accident, causing check-in traffic in Sea Pines to get backed up around the circle.
“We do not expect anything as dramatic as what happened last summer,” he said.
Road construction now, ‘game-changer’ park later
The Lowcountry Celebration Park will be installed on the 9 acres behind the Coligny Beach parking lot. The park will include a children’s museum, an outdoor performing space and lawn, a fenced-in lagoon with public art installations and a playground.
The first step of the project began earlier this month on Nassau Street, where crews are building sidewalks, on-street parking and a new drainage system for the road. The road is closed to through-traffic for the time being.
Once that is complete, traffic lights will be installed at Pope Avenue and Lagoon Road and turning lanes will be added at that intersection.
Buckalew said a traffic circle will be added inside the park, connecting the drop-off area with the existing Coligny beach parking lot.
Then, crews will widen leisure paths on South Forest Beach Drive and Tanglewood Drive and install a pedestrian crosswalk and flashing signal at the entrance to the Coligny beach parking lot.
The finished pathway will run from Nassau Street to South Forest Beach Drive and end with a crosswalk at the entrance to the Coligny Beach parking lot.
Finally, crews will resurface all of Pope Avenue beginning in March 2019.
The future park site will be the staging area for asphalt trucks and construction crews during all the phases of roadwork.
The construction of the Lowcountry Celebration Park will begin in January, according to Liggett and Darnell. It will overlap with the road construction and will be completed by May 2020.
Darnell said the work on the park itself will “all be interior to the site and there will be little disruption on the road.”