Politics often meet Beaufort County traffic jams

6 mins read

By Bill Rauch

Government isn’t bad at making plans, but its plans rarely get implemented without a firm push from the outside. These pushes come most often from constituent groups, but reasonable requests from campaign donors and threats from lawyers sometimes work too.

Occasionally an elected official advances a pet project, but that’s rare. Mostly government runs by crisis management.

Another rarity is the roadway improvement project that isn’t opposed by one or more neighborhood groups.

We all drive cars. We all hate to wait. In places that are growing – like Beaufort County – the number of cars on the roads grows by two-plus for every residential building unit that is permitted.

Thus local motorists are a growing constituent group. And when they get fed up they easily outmuscle all but the most effective of opponents.

What follows here are three Beaufort County roadway improvement projects that are currently in limbo awaiting a strong enough road rage-inspired push from local motorists, from us. They are the Windmill Harbor crash zone entrance to U.S. 278 on Hilton Head Island, the wacky Buckwalter Parkway detour of the Bluffton Parkway in Bluffton and the embattled Third Crossing in northern Beaufort County.

Let’s start with Bluffton. Beaufort County’s engineers say the $45 million flyover that will facilitate off-island Hilton Head traffic getting onto the Bluffton Parkway will soon be open. This improvement will lift traffic from U.S. 278 and send it down the Bluffton Parkway.

But a couple of miles down the Bluffton Parkway the four-lane road stops dead at Hampton Hall’s doorstep and goes onto what feels like a detour before the Parkway resumes a mile or so later. A problem now, the Hampton Hall bottleneck will increase with the opening of the flyover.

Insiders say the town of Bluffton could have easily avoided this snafu had it been willing to impose its solution via a development agreement provision for Hampton Hall.

Hampton Hall wanted the Bluffton Parkway to stop at the development’s doorstep, and incredibly the town’s negotiators went along with his plan.

Fixing that “detour” faces opposition from Hampton Hall developer John Reed, Beaufort County Council member Cynthia Bensch and some residents of Rose Hill.

The project was on the previous penny sales tax that passed, but when needed matching money from impact fees came up short it was scuttled. The project is currently parked and out of gas.

The Third Crossing between Port Royal Island and Lady’s Island was on the last penny sales tax referendum too with a $5 million price tag. The money was supposed to buy a plan, and the beginnings of permitting and land acquisition. But after the half-million dollar plan showed that the bridge should be from Brickyard to Perryclear, the uproar from those who now live in peaceful seclusion along the proposed new corridor was loud enough – and the voices of Beaufort and Port Royal’s leaderships were faint enough – that the county stalled the project and spent the rest of the money elsewhere.

Now, however, rush hour traffic frustrations on the Woods and McTeer bridges will be increased by the coming Lady’s Island Walmart, as they are every day by the steady stream of building permits being issued for Lady’s, St. Helena and Coosaw Island projects.

Moreover, the construction on Boundary Street has caused the traffic counts on the Parris Island Gateway corridor to increase, giving Port Royal a glimpse of the future.

“When the Woods Bridge is down,” Town Manager Vann Willis said last week, “it’s chaos over here.”

With traffic increasing, and no other alternatives, the question is: When will the Third Crossing plans come off the shelf?

The U.S. 278 at Windmill Harbor intersection – long a hazard – is the subject of a $7 million allocation on the November capital improvements penny sales tax measure.

But without an aggressive campaign behind it the measure will probably fail, and there is no sign now that any campaign will be run.

The Windmill Harbor intersection is another vestige from the days, as Council Chairman Paul Sommerville said last week, “when the developers ran the county.”

The intersection’s improvement has been hindered by opposition from, incredibly, Sea Pines, which has opposed it because it means another stoplight to hold them up drivers’ way to I-95.

All three of these projects have gotten in one form or fashion “the push,” but not as yet one strong and sustained enough to cause concrete to be poured.

Top photo: The westbound Bluffton Parkway as it dead ends into Hampton Hall is shown here. The cars shown here exiting to the right are following the “detour.” Photo by Bill Rauch.

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