Advisory panel backs seeking state money to build flyover bridges

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Advisory panel backs seeking state money to build flyover bridges

By ANNE CHRISTNOVICH
achristnovich@beaufortgazette.com
Published Thursday, March 22, 2012   |  520 Words  |  

A proposal to build two flyover bridges that would lessen traffic on U.S. 278 and make storm evacuations smoother got a boost Thursday night.

The Beaufort Transportation Advisory Group unanimously backed seeking a $15-million state grant to build the flyovers. Beaufort County would have to match those funds.

The group's backing came only after prolonged -- and sometimes terse -- discussions.

Renderings of the bridges have been criticized by some Hilton Head Island residents, who say the look of the flyovers doesn't match the character of the island.

However, rules for accepting the S.C. Department of Transportation grant don't allow the county to change the design.

"If you change the scope of the project, it's my opinion that it would not be the project that the commission approved," DOT Commissioner Craig Forrest said.

The two bridges would arch over the marsh at The Gatherings and Buckingham Landing to connect U.S. 278 to Bluffton Parkway near Moss Creek.

The advisory group, made up primarily of municipal mayors and Beaufort County Council members, discussed whether the county should accept the money for about two-and-half hours.

In the end, a recommendation with three amendments proposed by Hilton Head Mayor Drew Laughlin was made.

The amendments ask the county to:

  • improve the aesthetics of the flyovers
  • make the entrance to Windmill Harbour safer and easier to access. Residents there have complained the entrance to their neighborhood is unsafe and that the flyovers would make the problem worse.
  • continue to seek additional state money to eventually complete the evacuation route by extending the Bluffton Parkway.
  • A fourth proposal that asked the county to look at alternative bridge designs was dropped.

    "We're not shovel ready if we're going to go back and study other designs," county council chairman and advisory group member Weston Newton said.

    Project designer David Beaty, defended the current design. He said his company, Florence and Hutchinson, did extensive research on safety issues and design alternatives. He said it also showed renderings of the project at several public meetings in 2007 and 2008.

    "We literally received hundreds of comments during this process," he said. "At that time, to be honest, we didn't get a lot of comments on how we are going to landscape it or what color the steel would be. Comments were more toward the purpose of the project."

    Beaty said the facade of the bridges could easily be made more attractive with decorative concrete, paint or landscaping.

    The grant request still has to be approved by the Beaufort County Council before construction could begin.

    Follow Anne Christnovich on Twitter at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo

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