A $900,000 project to fix turn lanes near Windmill Harbour will start within a month, an S.C. Department of Transportation official said Thursday.
But concerned residents will have to wait for more extensive traffic upgrades, which they say would dramatically improve safety at the dangerous intersection near the U.S. 278 bridge closest to Hilton Head Island.
The DOT project will alter lanes outside Windmill Harbour, where drivers entering and leaving U.S. 278 often make spine-tingling dashes across highway traffic.
Plans call for lengthening an acceleration lane for right turns out of the community. This will give merging drivers enough time to accelerate before entering the highway, DOT Lowcountry program manager Joy Riley said
Construction crews also will push the left-turn lane into Windmill Harbour closer to the median, similar to the left-turn lane into the Plantation Park shopping center in Bluffton.
This should improve sight distance for those turning left onto U.S. 278, Riley said. Now, drivers turning left often feel as though they are blindly crossing speeding traffic.
"It's treacherous," said Mike Garrigan, chairman of the traffic committee for the Windmill Harbour Property Owners Association. "To take a left turn at certain times of day, especially during the summer, is an impossible situation."
Work should start this month or early next month, said DOT construction engineer Toby Wickenhoefer. He couldn't provide a specific date because he has not received the final construction schedule from the contractor.
Crews will work at night, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and will close only one lane at a time, he said.
The project is expected to be finished by Aug. 31.
Windmill Harbour residents see the project as the first step toward solving traffic issues near the community's entrance. In the next week, Beaufort County will begin a study that looks at larger improvements for Windmill and other Jenkins Island communities.
One possible project is an access road that would replace the dangerous left turns.
The access road would go under the J. Wilton Graves Bridge and extend to Gateway Drive, across the highway from Windmill Harbour. At Gateway Drive, residents could turn right onto the highway.
Building such a road is important as the Bluffton Parkway flyover project gets nearer its fall completion date, residents say.
The flyover might bring a steady stream of traffic to the island. It also will end the breaks in traffic, caused by stoplights in Bluffton, that give drivers leaving Windmill Harbour time to dart across U.S. 278.
"We're fearful that gap, where people dash across the road, might become nonexistent," Garrigan said.
But the larger project comes with a hefty price tag, estimated at $4 million to $5 million.
Beaufort County traffic engineer Colin Kinton said the $99,000 study will also look at other options, and it is expected to be completed in four months.
"Is there a $1 million solution?" Kinton asked. "I think we're going to look at the results and make recommendations from there."
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- DOT rejects proposed access road at Windmill Harbour, suggests new plan , April 21, 2014
- DOT to review plans for US 278, Windmill Harbour entrance , Feb. 9, 2014