Improving traffic flow should drive road route

There is but one good reason to adjust the well established route for the Bluffton Parkway realignment between Buck Island Road and Buckwalter Parkway -- improved traffic management.

We say again that Beaufort County must carefully calculate the costs and benefits of a change at this date and the impact on other property owners in the area.

Developer John Reed's interests -- and the town of Bluffton's potential legal liability -- aren't the only interests to be considered.

If Reed's proposed route doesn't meet these tests, he can adjust his plans and put some money in his pocket from the purchase of rights of way through his property.

If it does, then the county should consider the change.

But one developer's plans in a relatively small area shouldn't drive a public project.

The current one-mile overlap with Buckwalter Parkway brought Bluffton Parkway through commercial property Reed's company owned and came at his request in 2001.

The planned realignment is an attempt to straighten and shorten Bluffton Parkway as it travels from Buck Island Road to S.C. 170.

Reed and town of Bluffton officials are asking for a change that would move the new route about 400 feet closer to its intersection with the parkway stretch from Buckwalter Parkway to S.C. 170. The route the county has held hearings on and received permits to build was set in 2008. The town asked the county for the change in March.

The town and Reed cite a development agreement that, according to a letter from Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka to the county, calls for the developer to enter into good faith negotiations on rights of way after the route for what is called Bluffton Parkway Phase 5-B has been determined. If the route is acceptable to the town, Beaufort County and affected property owners, the right of way is to be donated.

That doesn't strike us as a legal obligation to follow the developer's preferred route, but it does suggest if agreement isn't reached, the developer isn't obligated to donate land for the road.

This road's route has given us whiplash from the very start. When an "east-west connector" first came under consideration in the late 1990s, the Buckwalter tract was 5,600 acres of mostly agricultural timberland. A major concern then was reducing traffic that could put scenic S.C. 46 at risk. Later, easing traffic congestion on then four-lane U.S. 278 became a factor, prompting Hilton Head Island to contribute money to the parkway's construction.

One of the reasons the route is being straightened is that it is now looked to as a possible hurricane evacuation route, with an eye toward extending it all the way to Interstate 95.

Let's figure this out once and for all. It's bad enough we're paying to reroute a road that's not even a decade old because we didn't get it right the first time.