The commute to Savannah could become a little easier for local drivers with the upcoming widening of U.S. 17 from the Georgia state line to S.C. 315 in Jasper County.
The project, which has been planned for a decade, would expand traffic capacity by adding a lane to each side of the roughly 4-mile stretch of road.
“There’s so much traffic in that area right now, this will definitely help out people commuting from Beaufort County to Savannah or vice versa,” S.C. Department of Transportation project manager Craig Winn said Tuesday.
Expected to break ground in 2018 and finish by 2020, the widening dovetails with the construction of the nearby Jasper Ocean Terminal.
The road project, expected to cost around $54 million, “should fit in quite well with the construction schedule for the port,” Ginnie Kozak, Lowcountry Council of Governments planning director, said during a recent meeting with the Beaufort County Northern Regional Plan Implementation Committee.
The port — expected to be up and running by 2025 — will sit on 1,500 acres just east of U.S. 17, near the mouth of the Savannah River.
Once operational, the Jasper Ocean Terminal “will provide a lot of employment opportunities for Beaufort County residents,” Kozak said.
County Planning Commission chairman Robert Semmler agreed, saying the port will have “a tremendous impact on Beaufort County.”
All of the added traffic coming in and out of the port will also put more strain on one of the busiest stretches of road in Jasper County.
An average of nearly 18,000 vehicles travel U.S. 17 between S.C. 315 and the Talmadge Memorial Bridge every day, according to data from the S.C. Department of Transportation.
Speaking about the local transportation network at the recent Bluffton Parkway flyover ribbon-cutting ceremony, state Sen. Tom Davis said a widened U.S. 17 would help improve a critical “lifeline between our neck of the woods here in South Carolina and the greater Savannah area.”
While the widened road, which could include bike lanes, will help ease congestion for drivers, it will be years before the project is complete.
Meanwhile, the roadway will likely remain rutted and pot-hole ridden.
Kozak said the road “is in horrendous condition,” but resurfacing it now only to go back in a couple of years to widen it would be a waste of money.
“We are going to have to grit our teeth when we drive over it for the next couple of years,” she said. “... But within a few years, that very difficult piece of road will be something very different than it is now.”