Hil­ton Head fears for the fu­ture of US 278

The Beaufort Gazette - - Front Page - BY KATHER­INE KOKAL kkokal@is­land­packet.com

Beau­fort County vot­ers passed the ref­er­en­dum dubbed “the penny tax” in Tues­day’s midterm elec­tion, and Hil­ton Head Is­land Town Coun­cil im­me­di­ately re­sponded.

On Wed­nes­day, the coun­cil voted unan­i­mously to cre­ate a cit­i­zen com­mit­tee to give in­put on one of the pro­jects the tax will fund: the Hil­ton Head bridges and U.S. 278.

The project is man­aged by S.C. Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, and there are no of­fi­cial al­ter­na­tives yet.

The 1 per­cent in­crease in sales tax will help fund the study and im­prove­ment of both of those ar­eas. Sev­eral groups on the is­land are con­cerned that SCDOT will widen the bridge, erad­i­cat­ing land owned by na­tive is­lan­ders in the Stoney com­mu­nity.

Mayor David Ben­nett brought a res­o­lu­tion to Town Coun­cil that cre­ates a seven-per­son com­mit­tee of cit­i­zens to “work co­op­er­a­tively with SCDOT to ob­tain and pro­vide cit­i­zen in­put to the U.S. 278 en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment and de­sign al­ter­na­tives.”

Town Coun­cil mem­ber Marc Grant amended the res­o­lu­tion to en­sure that coun­cil could rec­om­mend cit­i­zens to the com­mit­tee, which he said he would do as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Ward 1 — a neigh­bor­hood di­rectly af­fected, and in places bi­sected, by U.S. 278.

GET­TING THE WORD OUT

Grant told the Is­land Packet he goes door to door spread­ing in­for­ma­tion about the SCDOT project, but that hav­ing repre- sen­ta­tives on the com­mit­tee will help “get in­for­ma­tion back to the com­mu­nity” in the Stoney

neigh­bor­hood and other ar­eas sur­round­ing U.S. 278.

“We just want to make sure that they have in­put and that they don’t get rail­roaded,” Grant said about hav­ing na­tive is­lan­der voices on the com­mit­tee. “We don’t want peo­ple be­ing pushed aside.”

Ben­nett said he placed the res­o­lu­tion on the agenda him­self. He said that “es­pe­cially with pas­sage of the sales tax, the town should take the lead in shep­herd­ing this project.”

Grant said SCDOT needs to hear from “the real stake­hold­ers” and cre­ate a so­lu­tion that lim­its dam­age to his­toric com­mu­ni­ties.

“We want peo­ple to un­der­stand our cul­ture and our her­itage is dy­ing be­cause of this road and the overuse of this road,” he said.

DON’T EX­PECT TRAF­FIC CONES – YET

Res­i­dents and driv­ers are un­likely to see any big changes soon, though. The com­mit­tee will have time to give in­put.

As­sis­tant Town Man­ager Josh Gru­ber said it will be “five to six years at the ear­li­est” that driv­ers on the Hil­ton Head bridges would start see­ing phys­i­cal changes, be­cause the first step of the SCDOT project is com­plet­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal study of the area.

The study of the U.S. 278 cor­ri­dor be­tween Moss Creek and Squire Pope Road is to de­velop al­ter­na­tives, which will be sub­ject to a pub­lic hear­ing in spring 2020.

Ac­cord­ing to SCDOT, that study will in­clude the so­cial im­pacts of any pro­posed al­ter­na­tives.

Those al­ter­na­tives could in­clude widen­ing the Hil­ton Head bridges, build­ing a new bridge or rerout­ing traf­fic.

Ben­nett said the new com­mit­tee would work to make rec­om­men­da­tions to SCDOT and be in­volved “im­me­di­ately and con­tin­u­ally” in the en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment process.

TRY­ING AGAIN

The project will be funded in part from $120 mil­lion raised by the trans­porta­tion tax ref­er­en­dum.

A sim­i­lar ref­er­en­dum failed in 2016, and county lead­ers blamed it on vot­ers feel­ing “over­taxed and un­der­served.”

Gru­ber said this shot at the ref­er­en­dum was dif­fer­ent — it passed by nearly 16 per­cent­age points.

“It’s a re­ally good sign that we were able to clearly com­mu­ni­cate to cit­i­zens what we’re do­ing here,” he said.

He added that this ver­sion of the ref­er­en­dum was “scaled back” to pro­jects he said are “hard to ar­gue” against like fixes to the Hil­ton Head bridges.

JAY KARR jkarr@is­land­packet.com

Morn­ing com­muter traf­fic stacks up on the east­bound U.S. 278 bridge to Hil­ton Head Is­land. Fre­quent back­ups are a fact of life on the road.

KATHER­INE KOKAL The Is­land Packet

Res­i­dents dis­cuss con­cerns about U.S. 278 widen­ing at a com­mu­nity in­put meet­ing in Septem­ber.

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