What can we expect from Sea Island Parkway traffic study?

in Voices by

By Jim Hicks

The city of Beaufort has contracted for an in-depth traffic study of Sea Island Parkway (S.C. 21) on Lady’s Island in response to a recommendation by a joint state, county and city of Beaufort committee.

The study, which is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2016, is designed to determine what the traffic load on this key corridor is today, what it is projected to be in the future and what steps can be taken to reduce the negative impact of present and future traffic. The results of the study are tentatively scheduled to be available in December 2016.

Over the years Lady’s Island’s roads have been the subject of a good number of studies as a result of its being the fastest growing area in northern Beaufort County.

As a result of these studies, roads (Sea Island Parkway, Lady’s Island Drive, Sams Point Road) have been widened and an additional bridge span (McTeer) added to accommodate additional traffic.

Understanding this, what can be anticipated from this latest effort to get a handle on the traffic situation on Lady’s Island in general and Sea Island Parkway specifically?

Ward Edwards, a local engineering company will oversee the study, while Stantec, an international architectural and engineering company, will perform the actual study.

The specific area of study will include Sea Island Parkway from the Woods Memorial Bridge to the Chowan Creek Bridge, Lady’s Island Drive from Rue Du Bois Road to the intersection with Sea Island Parkway and Sams Point Road from Miller Road to the intersection with Sea Island Parkway.

The initial part of the study will include conducting intensive traffic counts at each key location on these roads at various times and days.  At the same time a review will be conducted of city and county land plans, past traffic studies, existing traffic models, capital improvements scheduled for the area, existing and projected development which could impact the roads and determine what level of service is appropriate for the corridor.

Once the review of the existing and projected status of Sea Island Parkway is completed, three alternate conceptual plans to address the current and anticipated traffic conditions will be developed. These recommendations will be presented to the original joint committee for a staff review and then presented to the Northern Regional Plan Implementation Committee (a joint committee of elected officials from northern Beaufort County, city of Beaufort and the town of Port Royal).

There will be two public meetings conducted as part of the study. One public meeting, which is tentatively scheduled for the latter part of September, will be held during the study to elicit public opinion and one following the completion of the data collection and analysis to share the findings and recommendations.

Then comes the challenging part.  Sea Island Parkway, Sams Point Road and Lady’s Island Drive are all roads belonging to the state of South Carolina and as such must compete with other state roads for funding of improvements.

To speed up any Beaufort County projects requires action at the local level to raise all or some of the funds needed for the project(s). The solutions recommended by the study for the traffic challenges being faced by Sea Island Parkway must be approved by the county and added to the Capital Improvement Project list for them to be eligible to receive impact fees.

An alternate approach would be for them to be part of a 1 percent Capital Projects Sales Tax Referendum similar to the one on the ballot in November.

Knowing what needs to be done and funding of what needs to be done are really two separate things.  Hopefully, the study presently underway will allow us to have a unified (state, county and city) position of what needs to be done to insure our roads are capable of coping with future traffic volume. Then we can attempt to figure out how best to pay it.

Jim Hicks is the chairman of the Lady’s Island Community Preservation Committee.