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Rare is the highway construction project that is completed under budget.
So it's not all that surprising that the successful bid to build the flyover interchange to connect U.S. 278 to the recently extended Bluffton Parkway is millions of dollars over budget.
A Lexington, Ky., firm was the low bidder at $36.7 million, an increase of about 6 percent over Beaufort County's most recent estimate of $34.5 million.
County officials are investigating whether the costs can be brought down and expect to report back soon to County Council, which has the final say on the contract.
The first thing to go -- and something not even included in the $36.7 million estimate -- probably will be money to beautify what will be a drastic change to the approach to Hilton Head Island.
The options being considered to do that would cost about $700,000, county officials have estimated. They include dying the concrete, adding accent lights, molding the concrete or adding landscaping around the flyover and ramps,
If the county has to pay more for the basic construction, it will be hard to justify this cost.
That's very disappointing because similar beautification efforts have made a big difference on other highway projects, especially Hilton Head Island's Cross Island Parkway. The town got $832,000 from the state Highway Department and kicked in another $168,000 in accommodations tax money to turn the toll road into a true parkway.
Under the circumstances, it would be understandable if Town Council reconsidered its support of the project, as suggested by Councilman Lee Edwards.
The town's support in March was predicated on the county looking at other options for the interchange design and making efforts to beautify the road. County officials said they would look at ways to make the project more visually pleasing.
Now Hilton Head officials are left with few choices. They can continue to support the project even as it takes a potentially ugly turn. They can take a symbolic vote against the project, which would allow them to at least stick by their position that the project should be made as palatable as possible. Or they could come up with the beautification money the county indicates it doesn't have.
Of course, the county could conclude it can't afford the flyover approach at all, even with $15 million in state and federal money.
Square one might be just where this project should go. The fact that voters approved it in 2006 in a list of projects to fund with a 1 percent sales tax means little. As we've seen with school bond referendums, voters might say yes to a list of projects when they'd say no to a project singled out. (See Whale Brach Early College High School.)
When county staff comes back to County Council, we'd like to see all the options laid out. It's the only way for County Council to make an informed decision and for the taxpaying public to understand what it's getting into.