$28M needed to make traffic fixes

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By Lisa Allen

The Lady’s Island traffic study will take another step forward when it’s presented to the Beaufort-Port Royal Metropolitan Planning Commission next month, but a huge question remains. How will the improvements be funded?

The 40-page study was written by Canadian-based Stantec Consulting with input from two public hearings, the city of Beaufort, Ward Edwards Engineering, Beaufort County and the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

“The Lady’s Island Corridor Study originated with the goals of improving congestion and reducing delays, improving safety, enhancing bicycle and pedestrian accommodations and enhancing aesthetics,” the report said.

It recommends nine projects that can help divert traffic from the over-burdened intersection of Sea Island Parkway and Sams Point/Lady’s Island Drive.

A September 2016 count showed that Lady’s Island Drive dumps 26,000 cars into the intersection each day, up 26 percent from a 2015 count. 

Sea Island Parkway pushed 21,660 cars through in 2016, up 11 percent from 2015. 

The 2016 numbers were collected before the Walmart at Airport Junction opened in May and before residents move into the 113 homes being built in Oyster Bluff on Sams Point.

Between 2011 and 2015, there were 541 vehicle crashes in the study area with two fatalities and 180 injuries. Nearly half, 246, were rear-end crashes.

Engineers predict nearly 21 percent more traffic coming from Lady’s Island Drive over the next two years and 16 percent from Sea Island Parkway, taking into account Walmart, Taco Bell, Harris Teeter (which, according to City Manager Bill Prokop, is postponed as parent company Kroger focuses on acquisitions), The Village at Oyster Bluff, Marina Village, Lady’s Island Shopping Center redevelopment and White Hall Plantation. 

The study also counted pedestrians and bicyclists, of which there were very few at any of the intersections at peak hours. 

The report calls from three new traffic signals at:

• Sams Point Road and Miller Drive

• Sea Island Parkway and Gay Drive

• Lady’s Island Dive and Hazel Farm Road

The report also recommends moving the traffic light from the current Beaufort High School access road to Sunset Boulevard and shifting the high school’s entrance to the east. However, that project requires reconfiguring the Lady’s Island shopping center.

In any event, there is no money identified for any of the recommended work.

“Currently there are no funds for improvements,” the report said. “By the time any construction can occur, key developments identified, such as Walmart, Harris Teeter, etc., will likely be completed. … This study anticipates that by the time these signals can be funded and installed with roadway improvements, they will be warranted.”

The report outlines nine projects. Their order and scope can be fluid, engineers wrote.

1. Sams Point Road Right Turn Lane ($761,000)

2. Hazel Farm Road and Gay Drive ($2.98 million)

3. New Lady’s Island Middle School Access ($1.48 million)

4. Sunset Boulevard and Miller Drive West ($4.84 million)

5. Beaufort High School Access Realignment ($1.79 million)

6. U.S. 21 Business, U.S. 21, and S.C. 802 Mainline Improvements ($10.77 million)

7. Meadowbrook Drive Extension ($776,000)

8. Mayfair Court Extension ($449,000)

 9. U.S. 21 Airport Area and Frontage Road ($4.98 million)

Total: $28.8 million

The cost for each project is only for the construction itself. The report doesn’t include what will be most likely the costliest aspect of road improvements: property acquisition and easements.

The city won’t be able to look to the SC Department of Transportation for financial help. 

Josh Johnson, assistant district traffic engineer, said the state has funding only for safety and maintenance projects. So far, the clogged intersection is too safe to merit state funds to improve safety.

City Planner Libby Anderson said the funding likely will come from a variety of sources, such as traffic impact fees, capital project sales tax, grants and developer contributions for roads on private property.

“We plan to present it to the Beaufort-Port Royal Metropolitan Planning Commission at its July meeting,” Anderson said. “This would be the first step in having appropriate projects put on city and county capital improvement plans.”

The planning board meets at 5:30 p.m., Monday, July 17, at the Beaufort City Council Chambers.

To read the full report, including hundreds of pages of data, go to bit.ly/2tEZCdo.