Earlier this year, dozens of Windmill Harbour residents boarded a charter bus and set off for Beaufort County Council.
They stormed into the council’s January meeting to support a road-widening project on Jenkins Island, where their community sits at the eastern base of the Hilton Head Island bridges.
When first presented, the Jenkins Island project was anticipated to be finished in winter 2018. The day the bus unloaded at council chambers, two months after the project was originally supposed to be completed, there wasn’t a shovel in the ground yet.
The project would require over a year of road construction at what’s often referred to as the “bottleneck” of the passage to the island. It would swell the stretch of highway to six lanes and completely change how residents of Windmill Harbour, Mariner’s Cove, Blue Heron Point and the Hilton Head Harbor RV Resort and Marina access their homes.
But the $9 million project has been delayed five or six times already because of the extensive coordination required with neighborhoods, utility providers and others, The Island Packet has previously reported. And now the county council chairman has questioned the need for the wider road. Residents wonder whether it’ll ever happen.
Despite approval by both the town and county, the $9 million project is facing last-minute questions.
In an email to Hilton Head Island Mayor John McCann, County Council Chairman Stu Rodman urged town leaders to “take a deep breath” on the project and determine whether less-than-expected traffic counts, paired with the impending U.S. 278 corridor project, make the project too high-risk to continue.
Asked what he means by high-risk, Rodman said Thursday that the work could become “obsolete” by the corridor project — which will affect the stretch from Moss Creek Drive in Bluffton to Spanish Wells Road on the island.
“If we do the Jenkins Island project as it’s proposed, and the (U.S. 278) corridor project then has a different road pattern through there, then have we obsoleted it and wasted that money,” he said.
But nearby residents, some of whom were on that bus in January, aren’t so pleased with the pause.
“His ‘taking a deep breath’ on this is endangering the lives of everyone who comes onto Hilton Head and leaves Hilton Head everyday,” said Jim O’Sullivan, a Windmill Harbour resident and member of the community’s traffic committee.
The turning lanes into Windmill Harbour have been the site of several accidents in recent years, but none was fatal, according to collision reports and Windmill Harbour traffic committee chairman Mike Garrigan.
“The Town of Hilton Head Island has approved it, the county has approved it, they have allocated the funds, but everyone continues to back up on it,” Garrigan said. “It shows us that public officials are not concerned about public safety.”
How much will the project cost?
Three bids have come in for the Jenkins Island project, ranging from $8.96 million to $10.17 million — well over the initial cost estimate of $7.4 million.
In addition to widening the lanes, the project would:
- Close current median crossovers: one at the entrance to Windmill Harbour and one at the entrance to the Hilton Head Harbor RV Resort and Marina
- Partially close the median crossover at Blue Heron Point Road to prevent left turns onto U.S. 278 heading off the island
- Build a new median crossover 600 feet east of Jenkins Road
- Construct “bulb-outs” for U-turns at Blue Heron Point Road and Jenkins Road
- Add multi-use pathways to the area, per a requirement from the Town of Hilton Head Island
If the money already issued isn’t used for the project, Rodman said “my guess would be that it could be used within the corridor,” referencing the county’s application to the state to match local funding.
The corridor project is expected to cost $240 million, according to SCDOT presentations and the project website.
The bids for the Jenkins Island project are 450-day proposals. If approved, the construction would begin Sept. 1, 2019 and end just before Thanksgiving 2020, according to Robert McFee, director of engineering for the county.
The county public facilities committee will next hear the Jenkins Island project on Aug. 12. If approved, it will go to the full county council for a vote on Aug. 26.
Rodman said he wouldn’t discuss how he’d vote when the project comes to council.
Residents are steadfast.
“If we don’t do something, someone is going to get killed on U.S. 278 trying to dart into and out of communities on Jenkins Island,” said Garrigan, the Windmill Harbour resident. “We need something done now.”