Beaufort County Council voted 9 to 2 at its March 28 meeting to support 21 of the 26 recommendations the Town of Hilton Head Island requested for the 278 Bridge Project.
“We have been working closely with the Town of Hilton Head and will continue to do so throughout this process,” said Eric Greenway, Beaufort County Administrator, in a press release announcing the vote. “We look forward to continuing this partnership and addressing as many of the concerns as economically and structurally feasible to upgrade the island’s access to the mainland.”
The town must provide to the county administrator within 30 days a written commitment to certain conditions or the endorsement will be withdrawn.
Some of those stipulations include the town funding all enhancements desired to be added to the project that are not currently incorporated into the refined preferred alternative, such as specific signage, landscaping, public art, and accent lighting; any and all right-of-way acquisitions and permissions required on town-owned properties throughout the project shall be provided to the project at no cost; and the town provides its municipal consent for the project, which means it will allow the contracted company to perform work within the right-of-ways (ROWs) that requires excavation or breaking up of the ROWs.
The vote signals the end of public hearings, the last two held March 3 and 5, where the latest updates to the U.S. 278 Corridor Improvement Project were presented by the South Carolina Department of Transportation at the Island Recreation Center and at the Rowing & Sailing Center at Squire Pope Community Park. The same interactive and static displays used in the July 2021 public open house were on hand but reflected changes to several of the recommendations that came in the final plan, known as Recommended Preferred Alternate 4A.
The Modified Alternative removes the connection of Jenkins Road to U.S. 278, and all traffic will be rerouted to Heinrichs Circle. Farther down the highway, there will be two left-turn lanes onto Squire Pope from 278; two right-turn lanes onto 278 from Squire Pope with no acceleration lane; and routing will combine the southbound left and through lanes on Squire Pope.
There will be no changes to Old Wild Horse Road, rescinding the idea of turning it into a one-way, northbound-only road. There will remain single left-turn lanes onto both Wild Horse and Spanish Wells Roads; and there will be two left-turn lanes from Spanish Wells onto 278.
The updates to the recommended plan are estimated in the year 2045 to take about 71 seconds to travel eastbound from Squire Pope to Spanish Wells during the morning rush hour, slightly longer than the 63 seconds the original preferred plan would take.
Concerns remain for the Stoney community, which lines both sides of 278 from just past Windmill Harbor to Spanish Wells.
According to the press release, among the funded portions of the project, 3.47 acres of land in Stoney will be acquired, and includes 1.10 acres of privately owned land. Another concern was “recognizing the historical importance of the Stoney Community, and truly representing the community as the gateway to Hilton Head Island.”
Viola Winbush’s father was raised in the Gullah Geechee community when it was only a two-lane road passing through, and her parents lived there from 1978 until they passed.
“The first time the highway people came through, they took part of our property,” she said at the Rec Center meeting. “Now they’re going to increase that. In a way, I’m glad my parents don’t have to worry, but now the kids have that worry.”
There were similar concerns at the Rowing Center.
Letha Stewart-Green lived on Hwy. 278 until her mother passed last year and she married.
“This is going to be a big change. It’s not something that we really want. We always were pressing the issue of having another way to preserve our land and keep our property and not have anything changed drastically. We know with time, changes come,” she said. “Our concern is my cousin Cora, who won’t be able to get in the front of her house. … We don’t have the privacy that we used to have. … God forbid someone lose control. They’d be landing right at our door.”
Arthur Champen, who lives on Squire Pope Road, said he was there to get a better understanding so he could explain the changes to other people.
“Most people come, look at it and say, ‘Well, how is this just going to affect me?’ I’m not looking at just me. I’m looking at the whole community,” Champen said. Regarding traveling Hwy. 278 now, he said, “I try to pick my time of day. And I tell my wife, if I have to go after, say, from two o’clock on, I don’t want to go.”
One of the recommendations the county did support but would require town funding was the “meandering highway” idea, which would cost $1.5 million, according to the county.
Of the five recommendations not supported, the largest was the idea of building two three-lane bridges instead of one six-lane bridge between the mainland and Jenkins Island. An estimated $27.3 million would increase the total project cost, widen the corridor and have a larger environmental impact.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.