By MINDY LUCAS
A new turn lane, coming soon to a busy intersection on Lady’s Island, will kick off the first of a handful of construction projects designed to alleviate traffic congestion and improve safety on the island, engineers say.
The turn lane project, at the Sams Point Road and Sea Island Parkway intersection, was outlined in detail at a public information meeting held on Tuesday, Nov. 19, by county engineers and others familiar with the project.
Once construction is complete, drivers heading south on Sams Point Road will have a dedicated right turn lane as they approach the intersection at Sea Island Parkway. The addition will free up two full lanes for drivers heading straight, engineers say, and a left turn lane will remain for those heading east toward St. Helena Island.
Overall, drivers should experience better flow as they move through the intersection, said Beaufort County’s Director of Engineering Rob McFee.
“It will reduce congestion at this intersection significantly. It will also improve safety,” McFee said.
The new lane will be the first of nine projects, totaling $30 million, planned for Lady’s Island alone. The road improvements are part of a larger pool of projects planned for Beaufort County as part of the 1 percent sales tax increase greenlighted by voters in November of 2018.
The nine projects slated for Lady’s Island include:
S.C. Highway 802 Sams Point Road right turn lane
Hazel Farm Road and S-7-497 Gay Drive
New Lady’s Island Middle School access
S-7-186 Sunset Boulevard and S-7-187 Miller Drive West
Beaufort High School access realignment
U.S. 21 Business, U.S. 21, and S.C. 802 mainline improvements
Meadowbrook Drive extension
Mayfair Court extension
U.S. 21 airport area and frontage road
Work is expected to begin on the Sams Point Road project, which will also include a new sidewalk, utility work and a concrete median, in the spring of 2020.
Members of the county’s design team, on hand at Tuesday’s meeting, answered questions and fielded suggestions and concerns. The county plans to hold public information meetings for each of the projects so that residents can give feedback, McFee said.
One idea that came out of a previous meeting was to construct a median on Sams Point Road, McFee said.
A median would keep drivers who may be tempted to take a left out of the Walgreen’s parking lot from crossing multiple lanes or from entering the parking lot formerly occupied by Publix.
“It’s tempting for drivers to make a maneuver there at the wrong time of day,” McFee said.
Those who showed up for the pop-in styled meeting were encouraged by what they saw on various renderings but still had plenty to say about the current state of traffic on Lady’s Island.
“That right there is death,” said Bill Murtagh pointing to the place on Sams Point Road where drivers try to cross.
Murtagh, who lives about 2 1/2 miles from the intersection, said it can take him 30 minutes or more just to go a few miles if he has an early morning appointment, something that should take less than 10 minutes, he said.
While he thinks the new turn lane will help, he was expecting to hear more about the other projects and how those might help alleviate the area’s growing traffic issues.
“This will just be a tiny little Band-Aid,” he said.
Longtime Lady’s Island resident Emil Meyers agreed with Murtagh.
“I’m encouraged to see it, but it should have been done already,” he said of the new turn lane. “It’s long overdue.”
Emil and his wife, Robin, have lived on Lady’s Island for 20 years and think the traffic is becoming unbearable.
“We’re allowing developers to build without the necessary fees involved to support the schools and the roads,” he said, adding that impact fees were not enough.
“County Council and developers have got to come to an agreement and change those PUDs that were put on hold 15 years ago,” he said. “If they don’t fix that, then we’re doomed. We’re going to be Mount Pleasant and Bluffton and nobody here wants that.”
Above: Jared Fralix, center, an engineer with Infrastructure Consulting and Engineering, listens to Peter Somerville’s concerns with the proposed turning lane at Sam’s Point Road and U.S. 21 on Lady’s Island during a meeting Tuesday. Somerville used the provided arial map to try and convince Fralix the proposed lane would cause traffic to back up even more. Fralix assured him it wouldn’t. Photo by Bob Sofaly.