Land bought to help traffic
On Tuesday, the Hilton Head Island Town Council bought 1.69 acres on the north side of William Hilton Parkway between Squire Pope Road and Old Wild Horse Road. The town will pay Atlantic Community Bank $405,450 for the land, which will be used to prevent development along William Hilton Parkway.
"This acquisition will help minimize future traffic impacts along William Hilton Parkway and the Old Wild Horse Road intersection," town manager Steve Riley said in a news release.
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Tourists headed to Hilton Head Island to celebrate the Fourth of July on the beach need to bring plenty of liquids, towels and sunscreen.
Patience might be just as important.
Traffic congestion can be an inconvenient, if predictable, part of summer on the island, no different than mosquitoes or afternoon storms.
It's particularly bad, town manager Steve Riley acknowledges, at the intersection of William Hilton Parkway and Squire Pope Road.
Riley called the intersection "one of (the town's) major issues over the years for transportation planning."
During peak tourism season, the line of cars waiting to access the island can stretch from that intersection well into Bluffton, a problem as vexing for Riley as it is for drivers.
"Police officers don't work, and I frankly don't know what else can be done at this point," he said, adding that the town already times the lights to facilitate traffic flow through the intersection.
It's particularly busy, he noted, on Saturday afternoons, when visitors typically check in to their vacation rentals.
"We talked to rental agents and timeshares about moving check-ins from Saturday, but that's what the market demands," Riley said. "It continues to be an issue."
The town has purchased much of the land around the intersection to reduce curb cuts and traffic conflicts by preventing future development in that area, Riley said, but it's had little effect so far.
The most effective way to alleviate the congestion, according to town traffic engineer Darrin Shoemaker, would be widening the road between that intersection and the mainland from four lanes to six.
"We don't have adequate capacity on the bridges, and (the Squire Pope Road) signal is the closest signal to them," he said. "For evacuation and operational purposes, it would certainly behoove us to widen the bridges."
He estimates about 60,000 vehicles pass through the intersection each day.
The town widened William Hilton Parkway east of Squire Pope Road to six lanes in 2008, and Shoemaker said that eased traffic by about 30 percent. It was unable to widen lanes west of the intersection, however, because that would disrupt neighborhoods on the north side of William Hilton Parkway.
The Beaufort County Council recently approved fly-over bridges to connect the Bluffton Parkway with the foot of the Karl S. Bowers Bridge to Hilton Head, which the Town Council and Shoemaker endorsed. But he cautioned that the fly-overs wouldn't help the congestion near Squire Pope Road.
"I'm certainly supportive," Shoemaker said, "but they're not going to make that bottleneck any less of a problem."