By Lisa Allen
Plans for Hilton’s Home2 and Tru properties at Parris Island Gateway and U.S. 21 include a 600-foot-long, 10-foot-deep tunnel so bikers and walkers on the Spanish Moss Trail won’t risk getting hit by cars.
The hotels will have a new access point directly onto U.S. 21, which also crosses the trail.
While the property is in city limits, the county, on behalf of the Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority, has to approve any activity within the trail’s right of way.
“These plans go back two years,” said Josh Gruber, Beaufort County deputy administrator. “When the developer approached the county about being able to access U.S. 21 across the trail, these are the conditions the county laid out. The developer didn’t object and the Beaufort County Council approved the encroachment plan.”
The county was concerned about the speed of traffic turning into the hotel property as well as the queue waiting to turn left onto U.S. 21, Gruber said.
But the Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail group thinks the tunnel is a terrible idea.
“The Friends believe that the negative aspects of this tunnel far outweigh the benefits,” Dean Moss, executive director, wrote in a June 15 letter to developer David Hornsby.
First, Moss wrote, the tunnel is overkill. While up to 2,261 cars a day might come and go from the hotel, that many cars bisect the trail at other points without incident.
“There is no reason to believe that trail users will be less cautious at the intersection in question, especially if it is established with the appropriate caution and traffic control equipment. It will be an incredibly unattractive and inhospitable feature on an otherwise attractive trail,” he wrote.
Gruber said the other roads preceded the trail. For new roads that cross the trail, the county has to make sure any new intersections are as safe as possible.
While the driveway will be level with the highway and parking lot, the trail will become a 600-foot trench with walls growing to 10 feet high for the length of an 80-foot tunnel in the middle. The trench will have to be fenced to keep people from falling into it.
“It will be a haven for undesirable people and behaviors; a dark, dry and shady refuge for all kinds of things. Law enforcement will not be able to police it without going into it. The women on our board have been especially concerned,” Moss wrote.
Finally, Moss predicts it will be a maintenance nightmare. While the developer will have to maintain the tunnel, it’s likely garbage will continually blow into the tunnel.
“Despite (the developer’s) best efforts, I can foresee garbage littering the tunnel floor, the lights not working, the tunnel filling with water and graffiti covering the walls of the tunnel and the approach trench. It will inevitably become a huge problem.”
Moss said it might be too late to change the plan, but recommends that residents ask the county to reconsider its approval of the tunnel or to ask the developer to change its plans.