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U.S. 278 widening project coming soon

Entering and leaving Windmill Harbour will become significantly safer soon. The improvement to that stretch of U.S. 278 is just one of many for the area’s main thoroughfare.

Construction on a project aimed at improving safety by widening a 1.05-mile stretch of U.S. 278 on Jenkins Island could begin by November, officials say.

The $7.4 million project will widen the road from four to six lanes and improve traffic flow along the tract from the foot of the J. Wilton Graves Bridge to the causeway from Jenkins Island to Hilton Head Island. The work was delayed for several months while officials reviewed plans to handle storm water, ultimately opting for a curb and gutter system rather than the swales, which are open ditches, called for in the original design. The swales would have required clearing more trees, Beaufort County traffic engineer Colin Kinton said.

When construction finally gets underway, it will mark the beginning of the end of a project nearly a decade in the making. The S.C. Department of Transportation and the Town of Hilton Head Island began studying traffic patterns at the entrance to Windmill Harbour in 2009, determining that a traffic signal was not necessary. Discussions ramped up in 2013, when the Windmill Harbour Property Owners Association and Beaufort County began working on a compromise to improve safety.

“We’re disappointed that things aren’t moving on the September timeline, but we have experienced so many different issues with the project from its inception years ago that this short delay is not creating any kind of anxiety or major concerns,” said Mike Garrigan, a Windmill Harbour resident and chairman of the neighborhood’s traffic committee. “Everybody wants to get it done.”

In addition to widening U.S. 278, the project will close or partially close three median crossovers to eliminate left turns, add a median crossover east of Jenkins Road, and add “bulb-outs” and traffic signals at Blue Heron Point and Jenkins roads to facilitate safe U-turns.

The Jenkins Island project is separate from a larger project to improve traffic flow on and off the island, which will be included in a proposed one-cent transportation sales tax referendum on the November ballot. Even though the Jenkins Island tract is within the footprint of the U.S. 278 corridor project, which runs from Moss Creek Drive to Squire Pope Road, the Jenkins Island widening is a more pressing concern and has its own funding source — bonds approved by the county in 2016 — Kinton said.

“We couldn’t wait and include this within the bigger project,” Kinton said. “We saw an immediate safety problem we had to address.”

Although the basic project is fully funded, Kinton said the county is applying for a federal grant for $6 million that would fund all the “bells and whistles,” such as multi-use pathways for pedestrians and cyclists and landscaping improvements.

The start of construction will mark the beginning of the end of a lengthy process, but the arrival of construction equipment and orange cones will bring a new set of headaches.

“The construction project itself is going to test a lot of our stamina,” Garrigan said. “Construction projects are always difficult, and this could be an 18-month project. Everyone’s going to have to be patient.”

Aug. 15 forum to discuss U.S. 278

The Town of Hilton Head Island and Beaufort County will hold a public forum about upcoming improvements to the U.S. 278 gateway corridor to Hilton Head Island at 6 p.m. Aug. 15 at the Bluffton library, 120 Palmetto Way. For more information about the project, contact Rob McFee at rmcfee@bcgov.net, call 843-255-2700 or go to bcgov.net.