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A ‘credibility issue’: Hilton Head residents confront county about delayed road project

‘Penny tax’ passes but nearly splits Beaufort County in half, unofficial results show

A one-percent transportation tax referendum, known as the "penny tax," passed by almost 58 percent according to unofficial results from the 2018 midterm elections. But the results show a divide in the county — almost straight across the middle.
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A one-percent transportation tax referendum, known as the "penny tax," passed by almost 58 percent according to unofficial results from the 2018 midterm elections. But the results show a divide in the county — almost straight across the middle.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Windmill Harbour is not situated within the town limits of Hilton Head Island.

They showed up in force — they know how dangerous a left turn can be.

A contingent of 20 some odd residents of Windmill Harbour and Jenkins Island stood up at Monday night’s Beaufort County Council meeting to be counted and show their concern over an again-delayed road project and noted public-safety concern.

“And folks, we’re looking at fender-benders and sideswipes,” Mike Garrigan said, his friends and neighbors filling the room behind him as he pleaded with council for an update — and action — on the Jenkins Island highway-improvement project. The long-planned venture seeks to lessen traffic congestion on — and eliminate dangerous left-hand turns onto — the busy, roughly mile-long stretch of U.S. 278 from the foot of J. Wilton Graves Bridge to the causeway that leads onto Hilton Head Island.

The county has earmarked $7.4 million for the project that would close medians at Windmill Harbour and Hilton Head RV Resort and Marina and install traffic signals to reroute would-be left turns to U-turns, according to previous reporting by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.

The Town of Hilton Head has approved the project, and residents such as Garrigan are asking, What’s the hold up?

“Someone is going to get killed out there before we ever even decide we’re going to start the project,” Garrigan continued.

He called the matter a “credibility issue” — officials call it a complicated one.

And soon, according to one official, the public will get a clearer picture of when, precisely, construction could begin.

WindmillHarbourHHI.JPG
A screen-shot of a Google Maps image of Jenkins Island, part of the Town of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Google

Rob McFee, Beaufort County’s director of construction, engineering and facilities, told the newspapers Tuesday afternoon that his staff will give council an update on the project at the body’s next public meeting Feb. 11.

“That’s when we’ll be able to lay out timelines, options and complications,” McFee said.

When asked what some of those complications were, McFee noted an ongoing environmental assessment and the complexity of coordinating with the various communities, utility providers and other stakeholders involved in the project.

Reached Tuesday morning, Beaufort County Council Chairman Stu Rodman said, “I suspect we’re looking at construction (beginning) next winter.”

Rodman and Hilton Head Island Assistant Town Manager Josh Gruber also noted another complication: the Jenkins Island project is separate from the larger S.C. Department of Transportation, $240-million U.S. 278 corridor project that stretches from Moss Creek to Squire Pope Road. Parts of the two efforts could conflict or be incompatible, they said.

Still, both support proceeding with the Jenkins Island project regardless of potential complications because of public-safety concerns.

Discussion of the project began as far back as 2009, according to county documents.

Garrigan wasn’t the only voice of concern at Monday’s council meeting.

Realtor James Wedgeworth told how he’d recently found “the perfect house” in Windmill Harbour for some clients, but when he told them where it was located, they passed on the property — they worried they’d “get killed crossing the road,” Wedgeworth said.

Garrigan called the project “the paramount safety issue in Beaufort County” but said it was getting “little to no attention” from the county’s traffic engineering department.

He counted at least six delays with the effort.

“In reviewing this project,” Garrigan told council, “you funded it, we’re ready to go and we need something to happen.

“And happen soon.”

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