By Jim Hicks
Beaufort County Council has recently appointed a six member Capital Projects Sales Tax Commission that is charged with developing a list of projects worthy of being part of a 1% Sales Tax Referendum in November. This list of recommended projects will be provided to County Council for consideration as part of the decision as to offering a 1% Sales Tax referendum on the November ballot. This is the same type of process that was attempted in 2004 and failed to gain voter approval and tried again in 2006 and was approved by Beaufort County voters. The 2006 process resulted in sufficient funds ($152 million) to fix some very serious problems which the county was faced with and was not going to be solved by either the state or federal government. The widening of U.S. Highway 278 and the additional span of the McTeer Bridge are two examples of such projects. All of the projects were managed by the Beaufort County Engineering Department in a professional manner worthy of praise and pride by all of us who call Beaufort County home.
The completion of these projects pushed the probability of disaster a bit further away from our door. For example with a wider Highway 278, traffic is not going to be so frustrating that tourist will choose to visit elsewhere for their vacation and the new road is much safer for all who travel on it. With the additional span of the McTeer Bridge and a wider Lady’s Island Drive, even in the event of a broken Woods Memorial Bridge and an approaching hurricane the residents of Lady’s Island and adjoining Sea Islands can probably escape prior to the hurricane’s arrival. Having fixed the absolute worst of Beaufort County’s transportation problems where should we turn to next?
Almost everyone has a pet project which they would like to be completed through the use of funding provided by a 1% sales tax. If there are projects that clearly pose a threat to the welfare of our county similar to the Highway 278 overload and the need for a wider McTeer Bridge they should be put on the top of the list. However, it would be great if, as part of the process, we could fix some things that are not near the point of being a crisis but would simply improve our existing infrastructure.
Included in the 25 Beaufort County projects provided to the Sales Tax Commission are the following Lady’s Island projects that fall into this category:
1. Rebuild the existing intersection at Sea Island Parkway, Sams Point Road and Lady’s Island Drive using mast arms for the signals to correct failing poles and revise the phasing to improve efficiency. (Estimated cost $2 million)
2. Provide a pathway between residential areas along Middle Road to Coosa Elementary School and pedestrian facilities on Sams Point Road. (Estimated cost $2 million)
3. Provide a bike and pedestrian trail along Meridian Road connecting Lady’s Island Drive and Sea Island Parkway. (Estimated cost $1.5 million).
As can be seen there are two obvious themes to the projects listed above — pathways and biking trails and intersection improvement. One makes driving on Lady’s Island roads safer and the other makes life a bit more pleasant. None of them are cheap. Perhaps, after the Sales Tax Commission identifies the projects needed to avert future crisis, we could consider a few that simply improve the existing roads and provide pathways and biking trails to improve the general quality of life when we are not behind a steering wheel.