A busload of Jenkins Island residents traveled 35 miles on Monday to support a road project they’ve been waiting on for years. The group from an unincorporated area near the base of the Hilton Head Island bridges told a Beaufort County Council committee that widening the road and installing traffic lights would finally and significantly improve their ability to come and go.
The project — which would close median crossovers and require U-turns instead of left turns into the communities — would mostly affect residents of Windmill Harbour, Blue Heron Point and Mariner’s Cove, who now must dodge cars traveling 55 mph in the area to make turns into their neighborhoods.
The committee voted to support the project, award the contract to Quality Enterprises and send it to the county council for a vote next week.
The $9.6 million project would tear up the area at the base of the bridge for a year. It would likely mean residents and tourists would endure two construction projects in three years once the U.S. 278 corridor project begins.
The county has secured $7.18 million in funding so far. The remaining $2.4 million will need to come from Hilton Head Island, Daufuskie and Bluffton road impact fees, according to county staff.
In addition to widening the lanes, the project will:
- 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
- Install new two traffic lights in the area for U-turns into the island’s communities
- 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
Two construction projects near Hilton Head’s bridges
Not everyone is supportive of the Jenkins Island project, which will at least partly overlap with the U.S. 278 corridor project that is supposed to alleviate congestion for more than four miles, from Moss Creek to the entrance to the Cross Island Parkway.
“Part of what we’re dealing with is we will be in construction for two winters and one summer,” County Council chairperson Stu Rodman said. “One to two years after that we will be in construction on the (U.S. 278) corridor project.”
Rodman encouraged local officials to “take a deep breath” on the Jenkins Island project last month after he said the money earmarked could instead be used for the U.S. 278 project. He said the Jenkins Island project runs the risk of being useless in the future as the U.S. 278 corridor changes.
But nearby residents — who were promised the safety project long before the 2018 transportation tax passed to pay for the corridor project — said they’re not willing to wait eight to 10 more years to see improvements.
“Not enough people have been killed yet, is that what it is?” one audience member blurted out.
The area has been the site of several crashes in recent years, many of which back up traffic for several miles. None has been fatal, according to county crash data.
Some committee members said if the road is changed, the U.S. 278 corridor project will just have to adapt.
“If it’s there, they’ll have to deal with it,” Lawrence McElynn said. “Many more years will pass, and this will be an old road by then.”
The public will hear official alternatives for the U.S. 278 corridor from the S.C. Department of Transportation at a public meeting at 5 p.m. on Sept. 19 at the Boys & Girls Club of Hilton Head Island.
Sept. 1 start date?
The original start date for construction on Jenkins Island was supposed to be Sept. 1, according to county engineer Rob McFee.
Although the project’s contract has been awarded, the council will need to approve the extra funding needed through three public readings and a public hearing. That pushes back the funding approval for at least a month.
The whole county council will next hear the issue Aug. 26. Jenkins Island residents said they plan to get on the bus once again for that meeting.