HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (WSAV) — The plan to change how drivers get on and off of Hilton Head Island for the better is one step closer to becoming a reality.
A divided Hilton Head Town Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to approve Beaufort County’s latest memo of approval for the Highway 278 project.
It is a plan that calls for replacing the two current two-lane bridges with one six-lane bridge. Planners say that will help ease the daily traffic issues from Bluffton to the Cross Island Parkway.
The Town had rejected previous agreements sent by the county council, asking for more study and other possibilities including two separate bridges and the exploration of other routes.
The county and the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) told the town council that funding from the state and federal government for the $280 million project could be in jeopardy if the project isn’t finished by 2027.
Because of what they felt was a firm deadline, the county council held firm on their statement that this would be the last memo of understanding or approval, and they would be willing to take the $80 million they had pledged away, giving it to other County projects.
“So we believe the town staff and the county staff have come up with a very good and cooperative agreement,” said Chris Ophardt, Beaufort County Public Information Officer. “And now it’s time to move forward. We are ready to work together. We feel like we’ve ironed out all the issues and now it’s time to move forward.”
SCDOT could have then decided to fix the only bridge they are responsible for and leave the rest of the project without the money to finish. That would have left the town to find a way, and the money to complete the remaining bridges and the corridor to the Cross Island Parkway.
State Sen. Tom Davis told the Council that SCDOT explained to him the federal and state funds allocated for the project would go away unless there was an agreement between the two sides.
“There has been some discussion that this project could go forward without town approval,” Davis explained. “That the piece that the county has could be divided out or the part the town has could be divided out. No, that can’t happen unless there’s that municipal consent.”
After several citizen comments against the county’s proposal, most of which said they didn’t believe the county council acted “in good faith”, the town council had its say.
“I do not have confidence the final product will be good for Hilton Head Island residents or the Island’s reputation and ultimately will hurt the economy,” Councilman David Aames said.
“This agreement puts the independent review in place so we will know in 6-9 months we will know more about this project,” explained Councilman Glenn Stanford. “I am not voting for this project now. I am voting in favor of having an independent review, which is what this agreement does.”
The 278 corridor project will now go to the federal government for environmental approval. The town and county will still have a say in the design phase and what the final bridge and corridor will look like. That design should be finished by late next year.