While there has been much discussion about proposed new bridges to and from Hilton Head Island, little has been said about what might happen to the old spans.
At a press conference Aug. 24 at the Honey Horn pavilion, Rep. Jeff Bradley, SC 123 (Hilton Head, Daufuskie) pitched an idea to turn the aging structures into a linear park.
“We have a unique opportunity in this area to grasp this asset and not demolish it. I want everybody to stretch their minds as to what this could be, and picture yourself coming across these bridges with beautiful landscaping and watching the bicyclists come from the Hilton Head side to the mainland side,” Bradley said. “Try and envision why this could be a reality.”
Bradley suggested the linear park might be “used for multiple generations.”
He also announced the formation of the Calibogue Skyway Park Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that that will manage the effort to promote the park.
Bradley said there has not yet been a complete study, but there are ways the park could be funded, beginning with using the estimated $10 million that was earmarked for a bike-hike lane on the planned new bridges.
“We have some numbers as to the cost of the demolition, and they run from $10 million to $22 million. We have an idea to save the money for the demolition of the bridge structures and use that to pay for the creation of the landscape on the bridges,” he said.
Bradley said there should be enough money left over to set aside funds in a perpetual trust that will provide for maintenance going forward, which he thinks will be somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000 per year.
There are ideas to use town-owned land on Jenkins Island across from Windmill Harbor as a destination parking lot where visitors can park and bike or walk the bridge. Up for discussion is a similar parking lot on the mainland side of the bridge.
“Let’s really make this a destination bridge like the Charleston Ravenel Bridge, where people come from all over the state,” said Mark Baker of Wood & Partners Inc., a land planning and architecture firm, following Bradley’s presentation. Baker’s firm provided the artists’ renderings and initial designs for the park, which were on display.
Baker noted that cycling is a popular pastime on Hilton Head Island, but there is no safe way to get to the island on a bicycle.
“Hilton Head is now a gold-level bicycle friendly community, but we’re not connected to the mainland,” he said, “so we know that that important piece of infrastructure is missing and we’ve got to move beyond that.”
Bradley admitted there were not a lot of answers regarding costs. “We have nothing but educated guesses,” he said. “Nobody really knows the answers until we start the process.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.