The brand new Bluffton Parkway flyover receives its baptism of fire on a busy tourist Saturday
On a giant slab of concrete high above the marsh separating Bluffton from Hilton Head Island, there was a sense of excitement in the air Friday morning.
But there was something else, too.
A sense of relief.
You could almost feel the collective exhale from the Beaufort County leaders on hand as a ribbon was cut in celebration of the opening of the Bluffton Parkway flyover.
This is a very, very large project, and I’m happy and relieved it’s complete.
Deputy Beaufort County administrator Josh Gruber
Plagued by delays, the flyover — a $45 million project nearly 15 years in the making — is the single largest county infrastructure undertaking since the Cross Island Parkway was completed in 1997.
“It’s an exciting day,” deputy county administrator Josh Gruber said. “This is a very, very large project, and I’m happy and relieved it’s complete.”
He said he is “not sure people always appreciate the scale and complexity of doing something like this.”
The 4,200-foot-long flyover, which engineers estimate will stand for at least 75 years, will allow drivers to avoid an oft-congested stretch of U.S. 278 just west of the bridges to Hilton Head Island.
Sen. Tom Davis, R.-Beaufort, said he finds “it helpful to think of our transportation needs in Beaufort County as a jigsaw puzzle,” and the completion of the flyover “is a key piece of that puzzle.”
“Putting this in place shows long-term vision from Beaufort County officials,” he said.
Beaufort County Councilman Tabor Vaux agreed.
“The opening of the flyover marks a significant improvement to the county’s transportation system,” he said.
The project is expected to cut the daily traffic of roughly 53,000 vehicles on U.S. 278 near the Hilton Head Island bridges by about 25 percent.
The flyover will “also add safety to the community by giving motorists an alternate evacuation route” in case of hurricanes or other natural disasters.
Gruber said, “I’m so glad we are able to get it opened up and finished so the public can start using it.”
While the flyover was not open to traffic immediately following the ribbon cutting, it was expected to open Friday evening.
Originally set to open last November, the county was forced to bail on that completion date when construction crews faced unexpected challenges building in the marsh and the S.C. Department of Transportation requested paving improvements on the mainland side of the project.
But now that the flyover is complete, local officials are looking ahead to future transportation projects.
Beaufort County and Hilton Head Island are seeking millions of dollars in capital sales tax revenues to be used for road projects around the bridges.
The County Council recently gave its blessing for a referendum to be placed on November’s ballot. If approved by voters, the measure would add a 1 percent sales tax to raise about $120 million for specific infrastructure projects.
On that projects list are proposed improvements to roadways on Pinckney Island and Jenkins Island, as well as along a stretch of U.S. 278 from Jenkins Island to Squire Pope Road.
But ultimately, a comprehensive solution to traffic problems coming on and off Hilton Head Island will require widening or replacing the actual bridges, local leaders say.