BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) — The Highway 278 corridor expansion project may end up in two parts.

That’s after a Beaufort County committee approved a resolution to start the building process now, without the approval of the Town of Hilton Head.

The Public Facilities Committee voted unanimously to narrow the scope of the $290 million 278 Bridge project to move forward. The new scope for the project would be from Moss Creek through Windmill Harbor and according to the committee, remains the most financially and environmentally feasible.

The current bridges, the first built in the 1950s, are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete and must be replaced. They are only rated for a category 3 hurricane and do not meet any current earthquake guidelines. The proposed six-lane bridge will be rated for Category 5 hurricanes and can withstand minor earthquakes.

The Town of Hilton Head has repeatedly asked for more time and studies to look at other options. That includes a new Memo of Understanding the Town Council approved just last week. That MOU would offer a new independent study and delay a project start date by close to a year.

The town of Hilton Head studies would look at more alternatives to the bridge projects, including a second bridge run from the current span over the water to the south end of the island.

Beaufort County Council Chairman Joe Passiment said the time to wait is over.

“We have made the promise that we will start construction no later than 2024 and that promise is that we will finish it no later than 2028,” explains Passiment. “If we do not keep to that promise we stand to lose $120 million.”

“I think if you look at the potential cost overruns, we are looking at, we are in a situation of high inflation and if we were to delay the project 6 to 9 months, we are exposing ourselves to a $50 million cost increase,” said Council Member Stu Rodman Chairman of the Public Facilities Community. “Stoney community could benefit from an overall independent review, that way one would not hold up the other.”

“I encourage the town to do the study to make the Stoney community better,” said Council Member Larry McElynn. “This Council agrees the one bridge is the best option to connect to 278 right before the Stoney gateway. This will ensure the least environmental impact on the area.”

Beaufort County has been working on an agreement for municipal consent with the Town of Hilton Head since 2018.

Hilton Head Mayor John McCann told News 3 he felt blindsided after the Beaufort County Facilities Committee voted to move ahead with the project without the Town’s approval.

The resolution they agreed to would allow the County to start the design process for the 278 corridor from Moss Creek to Windmill Harbor, including the bridges to and from Hilton Head which have been deemed “failing”. But it would not include the rest of the road to the Cross Island Parkway, which is owned by the Town. 

Chairman Joe Passiment says if the County does not start construction by 2024, it stands to lose $120 million. 

Mayor McCann says he heard that statement but has been told by State Senator Tom Davis that money “is not an issue”.

McCann said the council is still discussing the issue but did not tell News 3 what the Town’s next steps might be.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation and Beaufort County have worked for five years, presenting 17 alternatives. After public feedback, it was settled on Alternative 4A one bridge, 6 lanes are the most financially and environmentally feasible.

The County Council has also voted to support 21 of the 26 recommendations from the study commissioned by Hilton Head.

SCDOT has $65 million identified for the replacement of the eastbound Mackay Creek bridge. Understanding the importance of this corridor and the opportunities this bridge replacement project provides, Beaufort County has secured $120 million from the State Infrastructure Bank.

The citizens of Beaufort County approved a One Cent Sales Tax that will provide an additional $80 million towards the improvements of this corridor.

The full council will take up the resolution at the Sept. 12 County Council meeting.