Lets Start Discussing Another Bridge

Last Call
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LANCE-HANLINWith Marc Frey out of the country, this month’s Last Call has transformed into the … LANCE CALL

Last month we asked our readers a question: How can traffic to Hilton Head Island be improved?

The choices were:

  • Do nothing.
  • Widen the current bridge to the island.
  • Build a new bridge to the island.

The first choice, do nothing, is a cheap and safe option for now. Traffic to and from Hilton Head is only an issue on Saturdays, during the Heritage, on holidays or if there is a wreck on U.S. 278.

Yes, rush hours can be frustrating, but you can say that about many places. Today, no improvements are necessary.

It's tomorrow we have to think about.

Here is a simple equation: Bluffton growth + Hilton Head renewal = TRAFFIC NIGHTMARE.

Here are those variables in greater detail:

BLUFFTON GROWTH

Bluffton is spreading like wildfire. No longer is it viewed as just a gateway to the island. Cheaper housing and its central location have made it the preferred home for many young families. Schools are being built. New businesses are opening. The town and its people are being featured in national magazines and on TV shows.

Bluffton BBQ, Bluffton Oyster Co., Farmers Market Bluffton - these are places that don't feel the need to put "Hilton Head" in their title. They are proud to be in Bluffton and I think a growing number of people living there feel the same way.

After dark, Old Town has become the hotspot for local hipsters and twenty-somethings. It's the new Barmuda Triangle. With all this buzz and plenty of land available for development, Bluffton will continue to be one of the fastest growing towns in South Carolina. Many Blufftonians will find jobs on the island and spend their free time here.

HILTON HEAD RENEWAL

Hilton Head's population is stable, but a surge in traffic seems likely. Almost everything wrong with the island is being addressed. Much like Sea Pines served as a template for the gated communities, the Shelter Cove area is an example of how our dated shopping centers can be reinvented.

If we rebuild it, they will come.

To fill the many vacant office buildings, the Hilton Head Island Economic Development Corporation has been given an executive director and a sizable budget to lure in new companies (somebody please tell Trader Joe's the Food Lion building is available).

Most hotels have been renovated, a sailing and rowing center is under construction, new attractions such as Aerial Adventure and HHI Jet Pack have been added. Who wouldn't want to work or vacation here? It also looks like we're getting a University of South Carolina Beaufort campus on the south end.

TRAFFIC NIGHTMARE

With Bluffton's continued growth and Hilton Head's renewal, a dramatic increase in traffic to the island seems inevitable.

Outside of doing nothing, we have two options. We can continue to push the traffic bottleneck east by finishing the flyovers, expanding the bridge and then expanding the lanes all the way to the Cross Island Parkway. The smarter option would be to make a gigantic investment in our future by building a bridge toward Beaufort, or one of the islands close to it.

I know, it's an outrageous suggestion. The cost of building a bridge over Port Royal Sound would be astronomical. But just think about the return we would get on that investment. Suddenly, Hilton Head is no longer isolated. We are connected to the entire county. Historic Beaufort and all of its fantastic festivals are just a bridge away. Charleston is a little over an hour by car. We could market Hilton Head, Bluffton and Beaufort as one destination with day trips to Savannah and Charleston.

With our superior beaches, restaurants, businesses and golf courses, Hilton Head would be the new playground for many Beaufortonians, all those young military families included. We would no longer be viewed as one large retirement community.

The bridge would have a dramatic effect on tourist traffic, becoming the new gateway for all northern visitors. It would also give us another way off the island in case of emergency.  

Based on how long it took for the Cross Island Parkway to come to fruition, a new bridge project would take decades of debating and planning. Let's get the conversation started before we're all stuck in traffic.

 


SOUND OFF
Marc Frey’s “Last Call” will return to its regularly scheduled place in the October issue.