Crews are getting ready to dredge sand to be placed at the island's heel to combat beach erosion.
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Ask residents in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island what they think of "flyover" bridges linking U.S. 278 with Bluffton Parkway, and one of two responses is likely.
Some say it's a necessary evil that will make evacuations smoother and keep tourist traffic flowing.
Others believe it's an unneeded, concrete behemoth that ruins a scenic gateway and spoils the natural beauty that attracts all those tourists.
The bridges -- expected to cost about $31 million -- would start at Bluffton Parkway's intersection with Buckingham Plantation Drive and extend over the marsh between The Gatherings and Buckingham Landing. Ramps would tie in to either side of a Fording Island Road extension leading to the foot of the Karl S. Bowers Bridge to Hilton Head.
The project had sat dormant because of lack of funding, but it was recently revived when the Beaufort County Council was offered $15 million from the state that would have to be matched locally. The Hilton Head Island Town Council plans to weigh in on the project Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the resurgence of the project has many wondering if this is how the entrance to Hilton Head should look.
Philip Perkins, a 25-year Hilton Head Island resident, doesn't want it.
"That will be visitors' first impression of Hilton Head," Perkins said. "They see what will look like the Bronx Expressway or exactly what they came here to leave behind."
Others are not as worried, citing the Cross Island Parkway as an example of a needed road project that blended well with the scenery despite early misgivings.
"The Cross Island Parkway was fought for years and years, and I don't see it as an eyesore," said Scott Adams, general manager of Old South Golf Links, located off Buckingham Plantation Drive in Bluffton, near where the flyovers would be built.
"As long as (the flyovers) are tastefully done, I don't think it will be an eyesore."
FUNCTION OVER FASHION?
The flyovers are expected to reduce traffic by as much as 30 percent on U.S. 278 near Moss Creek, according to a county report.
The county has already spent about $3.7 million designing the project, relocating utilities and securing permits and environmental studies.If the project is not completed, it would diminish the benefit of previous projects to extend Bluffton Parkway to Moss Creek, according to county traffic engineer Colin Kinton.
Traffic would be delayed, and drivers turning left on to Buckingham Plantation Drive to get to Bluffton Parkway would stack up, he said.
County officials say they will look at ways to make the flyovers more aesthetically pleasing, with the money they have to work with.
"When the county first envisioned this project, one of our priorities was to minimize any aesthetic concerns," County Council Chairman Weston Newton said. "We considered stamping palmetto trees into the concrete of the bridges; using some sort of textured facade, like brick; as well as landscaping."
Whether that will be case is yet to be decided.Newton also argues the flyovers would improve, not ruin, vistas of the island gateway by shifting focus away from the rusty utility towers and high-tension lines that dot the landscape.
"People will instead be looking at decorative concrete with plantings," he said. "At the end of the day, the aesthetics of the gateway to the island are of paramount importance, as well as safety."
Jim Tiller, president of J.K. Tiller Associates landscape architects and former chairman of the Southern Corridor Review Board, doesn't like the bridges.
The board governs the appearance of properties along the mainland U.S. 278 corridor, but has no say over the flyovers.
"I would love to see the money spent to landscape 278, for example, than use it to build flyovers that don't fit in with the Lowcountry and Hilton Head environment," Tiller said. "I don't think it's necessary here."
Hilton Head resident Angela Mandigo, owner of Circle of Life Plant Interiors, Rentals and Landscaping, said it's important to protect Hilton Head's character, but it costs her time and money if she or her employees are stuck in traffic on U.S. 278.
Still, Mandigo added, "When you drive over the bridge, you know you're coming to Hilton Head because of the serene beauty around you. I do worry that the flyovers would change that."
Many of the same arguments about the flyovers were made about the Cross Island: Too urban; too much concrete; too many ramps. Now, many can't imagine doing without the 5.6-mile toll road that opened in 1998, linking the north and south ends of the island.
Hilton Head Mayor Drew Laughlin said he would like the county to style the landscaping near the flyovers in a manner similar to the Cross Island.
"Obviously, any time you have a big structure like that going over the marsh, you like to think you don't need it," Laughlin said. "But at the end of the day, I don't think it's going to be a detraction for the island that will put people off.
" ... If it's done right, I think it will be fine."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead
State funding for flyover bridges available, pending county approval: Feb. 27, 2012