Taking a toll

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ISLAND DRIVERS BEMOAN TWO YEARS OF REMAINING TOLLS

On summer Saturdays, traffic stretches from the Cross Island Parkway’s toll booths in both directions on Hilton Head Island. The toll will disappear in two years, but for those who drive it every day, this a long time to wait behind drivers who fumble for change and ask the attendants for directions.

Though the Cross Island Parkway has made traveling from one end of the island to the other easier over the years, residents new to the Lowcountry may not be aware of its history and the timeline for removal of the tolls.

Work on the Cross Island began in 1995 and was completed in 1998, cutting the 30-minute drive from the western tip of the island to the main gate of Sea Pines down to 6 minutes. More than 845,000 drivers travel the 6-mile-long parkway each year.

Some residents think those who live here should pay less than visitors.

“We have over 2 million visitors a year,” said Hilton Head resident Elizabeth Pirkey. “Why are local people paying for this?”

Pirkey started a petition last year on Change.org asking the Town of Hilton Head Island to convert the toll to a flat $50 annual fee for local residents and workers; so far, it has garnered more than 1,100 signatures.

But the town has little control over the parkway and its toll; the road is owned by the state, which sets the fee and makes all decisions concerning the roadway.

The state elected to pay for the $81 million project by collecting a toll; Originally, the toll cost $1, but more residents than expected purchased the discounted Palmetto Pass, resulting in lower revenue than anticipated. The toll was raised to $1.25 in 2008. The fee is expected to remain at this rate until July 1, 2021, when state officials estimate the $8.9 million in remaining debt due to parkway construction, a resurfacing project and operations fees will be paid off.

On that day, the state will remove the toll booths and drivers likely can expect an improved traffic flow every day — even on Saturdays in summer.