By MINDY LUCAS
Residents and business owners concerned about how an upcoming road project on Lady’s Island might impact them weighed in on design plans at a public information meeting held Wednesday, Jan. 8 at Beaufort High School.
The project, known as the Beaufort High School access realignment, aims to alleviate traffic congestion around the high school’s main points of entrance while also improving its access roads.
The improvements are part of a larger set of projects planned for Beaufort County after a 1 percent sales tax increase was passed by voters in 2018.
Those who attended the drop-in-styled meeting, hosted by Beaufort County Engineering Division and Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson engineering firm, were shown three options or alternatives. Participants could then “vote” or place a blue dot on the option they preferred and give feedback to engineers on hand for the meeting.
While all three options called for the removal of a traffic signal at Geechie Road and converting the road’s access from Sea Island Parkway to a right turn in and right turn out only, each of the alternatives had different plans for handling traffic flow.
Alternative 1, called the “Youmans Drive” alternative, would include improvements made to Geechie Road to Youmans Drive. It would add a traffic signal and right turn lane at Youmans Drive where it meets Sea Island Parkway and a left turn would be added at Meridian Road for traffic turning onto Youmans Drive. Beaufort Memorial’s thru access would also be addressed in this plan.
The estimated cost of Alternative 1 is $3.5 million.
Alternative 2, called the “Meridian Road” alternative, would add a traffic signal and right turn lane at Meridian Road and Sea Island Parkway. A new road accessing school property would be cut from Meridian Road to the school and a left turn lane added for traffic entering here. A traffic signal would be added at Sunset Boulevard for traffic traveling across Sea island Parkway.
The estimated cost of alternative two is $2.7 million.
Alternative 3, called the “Sunset Boulevard” alternative, calls for the construction of a road to be built through the Lady’s Island Shopping Center. The road would connect Geechie Road to an intersection at Sunset Boulevard, where a traffic signal would be added.
The estimated cost of Alternative 3 is $2.8 million but could run upward of $3.8 million depending on the design of the road and if any specific parcels of land need to be acquired.
Although it was the most popular option, according to the number of blue dots placed at Wednesday night’s meeting, Alternative 3 didn’t sit well with at least one local business owner.
Richard Wynn, who owns and operates the Lady’s Island Laundromat in the Lady’s Island shopping center, was concerned the road project would take parking away from his customers.
Engineers on hand Wednesday night said the new road could impact the shopping center and may require taking some parking spaces, although they could not say how many that might be.
If that happens, Wynn said it would negatively affect his business.
“It definitely will,” he said. “If people don’t have a place to park, they’re not going to come here.”
According to Beaufort County’s Director of Engineering Rob McFee, the county has had a number of discussions with the shopping plaza’s owner, local developer Merritt Patterson, should Alternative 3 be selected.
McFee said Alternative 3 could become “very expensive” if it requires the county to buy the entire shopping center.
“That’s one of the biggest issues with Alternative No. 3 – is the impact to this commercial entity so how do we balance that?”
The county presented a chart detailing the number of residential properties versus commercial properties each option could impact. It also gave each option a score in terms of traffic operations. Alternative 3 had the best score from the standpoint of traffic.
A similar information meeting was held in November to detail the Sams Point Road turn lane project. The county plans to hold such meetings for each of the proposed road projects so that residents can provide feedback, McFee said at that meeting, and there will be at least one additional meeting on the Beaufort High School project.
Laura Vernon who attended Wednesday’s meeting said initially, she was concerned about the impact the roads project and its proposed alternatives might have on traffic in her Burkmeyer Beach neighborhood, off Meridian Road.
“But I don’t think any of them will affect my area as bad as I was fearing to begin with,” she said.
The mother of four elementary school-age children said her family had often used the facilities and the pool at the high school and had voted for Alternative 3.
As longtime area residents, she and husband, Darby, have watched as traffic has become more congested and the area has continued to grow over the years, they said.
“The (road) improvements are definitely wanted,” she said. “But of course you can’t make everyone happy.”
Above: Ryan Lyle, center, an engineer with Thompson Engineering, and Claude Dinkins, far right, discuss traffic flow from Beaufort High School during the Realignment Project Public Information meeting Wednesday, Jan. 8, at the school.