Secondary road system keeps getting better

It was a long time coming, but a new section of Bluffton Parkway is quickly proving useful to area drivers, providing a much-needed alternative to a very busy stretch of U.S. 278.

Even if it is never used for a hurricane evacuation, it will still be valuable to local drivers, particularly on a summer Saturday when arriving tourists clog the highway leading to Hilton Head Island or any day that an accident or other incident on U.S. 278 delays or blocks traffic.

The new stretch extends the four-lane Bluffton Parkway from Burnt Church Road to Malphrus Road, taking it behind Tanger 1 Outlet Center and other shopping centers. Work is continuing from Malphrus Road to Buckingham Landing. When it opens later this year, shoppers will be able to reach Tanger 2 Outlet Center from the parkway. The new road section also extends the area's pathway system, another plus.

Voters in 2006 approved the parkway extension in a package of road projects to be paid for with a countywide 1 percent sales tax and road impact fees. Part of the delay in getting this section of road built was getting permission to fill 10 acres of wetlands, approval that came in late 2010.

The more controversial part of the Bluffton Parkway project is two flyover bridges that will connect Bluffton Parkway and U.S. 278 near the bridges to Hilton Head. That section is expected to cost more than $30 million, with the state kicking in $15 million. The flyovers are designed to make traffic from the highway to the parkway flow more smoothly, which should help during a storm evacuation.

We'll defer to the traffic engineers that this is the way to go, but state and local officials must do all they can to improve the look of the flyovers. They can look to Hilton Head's Cross Island Parkway to see what good landscaping can do to soften a road's visual impact. Landscaping the nearly six-mile-long Cross Island Parkway wasn't cheap; the state gave the town more than $800,000 for the job, and there is upkeep.

Improved traffic flow and protecting the area's natural beauty don't have to be mutually exclusive. There is much that can be done if we make it a priority.