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State funding is available to build two flyover bridges to connect U.S. 278 and the Bluffton Parkway near Moss Creek, providing an alternate evacuation route for Hilton Head Island.
The S.C. Department of Transportation will provide a $15 million grant for the project, and the county would be required to kick in $15 million, DOT Commissioner Craig Forrest of Bluffton told the Beaufort County Council on Monday.
Permits have already been issued and the project meets state and federal requirements. It's "shovel ready," Forrest said, and that's why the DOT is ready to fund it.
The project, estimated to cost $34 million, is the most expensive item on the list of 1-cent sales tax projects approved by voters in countywide referendum in 2006. Council Chairman Weston Newton said the flyovers and a multi-phase extension of Bluffton Parkway are all part of plans for creating a more efficient hurricane-evacuation route off Hilton Head Island.
"There was a deliberate strategy to have the Bluffton Parkway designed to federal standards." he said. "The goal ... was to put the building blocks in place to become eligible for federal monies for these roads."
Forrest said the grant could only be used to build the flyovers. Although the council briefly talked at its annual retreat about altering the project design, Forrest warned that any changes could result in losing the grant.
"Once you have a re-look, then other issues could crop up and open a Pandora's box," he said. "From my particular standpoint, if you're serious about this project and you want to connect to Bluffton Parkway and aid in an evacuation route, you're already going in the right direction."
A deadline for the county to accept the grant hasn't been set, but Forrest said it "needs to be done very quickly."
Newton said the Beaufort Transportation Authority Group will meet in late March and give a recommendation to council by early April. A specific date has not been set.
When the flyovers are completed, straightening Bluffton Parkway from Buck Island Road to Buckwalter Parkway would be the only phase left in the Bluffton Parkway extension project.
County administrator Gary Kubic said county staff is currently coming up with a cost estimate for the road work.
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