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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Traffic Improvements on the 278 Corridor

1. What will the corridor actually look like? We do not know the specific details of the project yet because these will be guided by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. The NEPA process for this project is an Environmental Assessment (EA). NEPA requires an in depth study with community involvement be completed to identify the ‘Preferred Alternative’. This study is underway with its first community meeting on September 27, 2018.

2. Will the project just extend the Congestion further down the road, so to speak? Does all the traffic end up on a two-lane road? No, once traffic has passed through this corridor, it disperses to acceptable levels. The project corridor extends from the intersection of Moss Creek to the Intersection at Squire Pope Road. There are currently at least three lanes of vehicular access leading to, and leaving from the project area, but only two lanes of vehicular access within the project area.

3. How long will this take to build? The current construction estimate is 3 to 5 years once construction begins.

4. What are some of the major problems & issues that make a new Bridge on US 278 an urgent need for Beaufort County and the Region? One of the most critical issues that we are facing is timing. Of the four bridge spans that are currently in place (two east-bound, two west-bound), one (first east-bound span) has reached the end of its useful life (it was part of the original road to Hilton Head built in 1955). While that does not mean that it is in anyway unsafe to travel upon, it does mean that the bridge is deteriorating and will unquestionably need to be replaced in the near future. SCDOT has already set aside $40M to perform this work. The problem with this is that simply replacing that single bridge will NOT solve the existing capacity and congestion issues facing traffic through this area.

Even if an additional lane were included on the bridge replacement, it would only be to this one bridge span and traffic would simply bottleneck at Pinckney Island. Additionally, this action would provide no relief whatsoever for traffic that is trying to leave the island. Considering these constraints, we should try and utilize SCDOT’s currently allocated funding to accomplish a much greater project that will in fact address the traffic concerns that already exist in this area and do so in such a way so as to limit the amount of impact on the residents and visitors who will continue to use this corridor as the project is being completed.

5. Why now? Because one of the 4 spans on US 278 leading to Hilton Head has been slated for replacement, we have an opportunity to integrate that $40 M into a more comprehensive solution. This project is critical because of the time constraints identified above concerning the existing deteriorating bridge, the obvious need for additional capacity based upon current traffic volumes, and the fact that in order to obtain State and/or Federal funding to support a project such as this, local funding MUST be committed as a match to receive this additional financial support. Because major public infrastructure projects take so long to permit, design, finance and build, time is of the essence. If Beaufort County cannot come up with a viable financing plan in the next 18 months or so, SCDOT will have to move forward with upgrading only 1 bridge out of 4.

6. What groups are (or will be) most impacted by more Congestion along US 278? Hilton Head Island visitors and residents along with Beaufort County businesses, employees, and our surrounding region as a whole, could suffer significant direct economic harm from the congestion if we do not address this situation in a timely fashion.

7. Are there additional costs likely, as this project evolves over several years? It is possible; however, the $240M figure that is currently being used was developed by SCDOT as an estimate of what a project of this size could potentially cost based upon average lane mile expenses. Similarly, as this project goes through the environmental assessment process and various aspects of the project get added to or subtracted from the final design due to public input and involvement; the final project budget could ultimately change.

8. How will any potential, additional costs be covered? Currently, the $240M project is broken down as follows: $80M from the penny referendum, $40M from SCDOT in bridge replacement funds, and a request for $120M from the South Carolina State Infrastructure Bank (SIB). This budget does not take into account any Federal funding that could be obtained to address potential additional costs. In the completed 2006 1 cent referendum projects, Beaufort County was able to leverage funding from other sources such as the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), South Carolina Infrastructure Bank (SIB) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for nearly 30% of the entire program (almost $60 million).

9. Are Bike & Pedestrian Paths included in the plan? There are no firm engineering plans as of yet since the Environmental Assessment process is still actively being conducted. However, public input is part of the environmental assessment process and, currently, bike and pedestrian access continues to be one of the most frequently requested amenities identified by the public that they would like to include as part of this project.

10. Won’t a bigger bridge just “bring more people and traffic congestion to HHI?” The proposed infrastructure improvements that are being discussed are necessary to address the existing traffic congestion that is already being experienced today. Existing traffic counts are starting to consistently reach between 60,000 and 70,000 vehicles per day and are likely to continue to grow due to the increase in population of the surrounding areas of Bluffton, Beaufort County, Hardeeville and Jasper County, and the desirable amenities such as the beaches, restaurants, and shopping that are available on Hilton Head Island. To help address growth Hilton Head and Beaufort County both have very active critical lands acquisition programs that have removed over 25,000 acres from development and as well as strict land use provisions to control growth and the resulting traffic.

11. What does it mean to say “the Bridge & Corridor are the last part of the bigger project?” Significant infrastructure improvements have already been made outside of the project area to include US-278, Bluffton Parkway, and on Hilton Head Island itself. The area within the project corridor has not been substantially improved since the 1980’s and the current lack of capacity for vehicular traffic needs to be addressed so that it can function better with the improvements that have already been installed outside of the project area. Completion of the Flyover connection to Bluffton Parkway in 2015 reduced traffic on US 278 in the greater Bluffton area by nearly 30%. This project is the last under- improved segment of US 278 and completing it will allow a greater utilization of the Bluffton Parkway as well as reduce congestion and improve safety.

Lady’s Island Traffic Improvements

1. What are these nine projects, and what are the specific costs? Total costs are estimated to be about $30 million. Here is a list of the nine projects and the estimated cost:

  • SC 802 Sam’s Point Road Right Turn Lane – $761,000
  • Hazel Farm Road and Gay Drive – $2,984,000
  • New Lady’s Island Middle School Access – $1,483,000
  • Sunset Boulevard and Miller Drive West – $4,842,000
  • Beaufort High School Access Realignment – $1,792,000
  • US 21 Business, US 21, and SC 802 Mainline Improvements – $10,776,000
  • Meadowbrook Drive Extension – $777,000
  • Mayfair Court Extension – $450,000
  • US 21 Airport Area and Frontage Road – $4,980,000

2. What traffic problems is Lady’s Island experiencing? Lady’s Island is one of the fastest growing areas in Beaufort County. The Island’s residential population has grown by nearly 2.5 percent annually since the year 2000, with noticeable impacts on community character, environmental protection – and traffic and traffic congestion.

3. What does this mean for the future of Lady’s Island? The population of Lady’s Island is about 13,500 today, about the size of the City of Beaufort. But there are potentially nearly nine thousand new residences that could be built on the island under current regulations.

4. How bad is traffic? Traffic counts collected in 2016 show US 21 Business Sea Island Parkway has reached daily traffic volumes of 21,660 vehicles per day (vpd), while US 21 Lady’s Island Drive has reached 26,000 vpd. Without some action, the main intersection on Lady’s Island – the Sea Island Parkway at Sams Point Road – will likely reach capacity by 2020.

5. It’s an island: What can be done about the traffic without building more roads? There has never been a basic plan for Lady’s Island. As a result, things have developed piecemeal. There are some smaller corrective measures that can be taken, and a couple of more major projects that significantly extend road capacity. One thing most do not wish to do is build major new roadways that will help attract new development on the island.

6. What kinds of “solutions” are we talking about? Greater street connectivity is central to a solution, and re-location of some traffic signals has the potential to get traffic moving. Re-organization of merge lanes on the Sea Island Parkway near Walmart, and a new right-turn only lane at the “Publix intersection” will bring significant improvement.

7. How soon will work begin to solve these problems? It all depends on funding. The overall plan is separated into nine distinct projects. These projects will be combined as funding permits. Otherwise, they will be prioritized based on availability, impacts of one project to another, and perceived needs. Beaufort County is recommending funding come from a four-year, one-cent increase in the sales tax. If voters approve this in November, some projects could be underway in 2019.

8. What happens if the referendum does not pass in November? Failure of the referendum means these projects can only then be undertaken individually, and then only over a longer period of time. Given existing traffic pressures, the traffic situation on Lady’s Island will then likely get a lot worse before it gets better. One objective is to prevent traffic congestion on the island from growing to crisis proportions, which we do by acting now.

Sidewalk and Pathway Improvement in Beaufort County

1. Why is money being spent on sidewalk and pathway improvements? $10 million dollars will be spent on the installation and repair of sidewalks and multi-use pathways. 24 locations within the county have been identified that will help to provide safe walking routes to schools and improved access to residential communities.

Tax and Funding Information

1. Who collects this penny? The South Carolina Department of Revenue (SCDOR) collects the revenue from merchants.

2. What items are exempted by this Tax? A list of items that are exempted from the local sales tax is maintained by the South Carolina Department of Revenue. A link to a reference document can be found here: www.beaufortpenny.com

3. Why not just tax Visitors? There is no legal way of doing this. We are confined to utilizing only those statutory methods that are permitted by the South Carolina General Assembly and currently, there is no method by which only tourists and visitors could be required to pay for this project. The sales tax as currently proposed is the best method possible for trying to ensure that tourists and visitors pay their fair share for using this infrastructure as well.

4. Why can’t we put in a toll to pay for this project? There are several reasons that looking to tolls to pay for the entire project would not likely work. First, with most toll roads that exist today there is always another non-toll option that people can choose to travel on instead of paying for the convenience of driving on a road that has a toll. In this situation, with there being only one way onto and off of the Island, it would likely have a significant impact on those who would not have any ability to pay the toll nor would they have another route that they could consider using where they could avoid the toll if it were necessary. Second, a large portion of the Island’s workforce does not live on the Island and has to commute every day to reach their place of employment. Adding a toll cost to this roadway would have a negative impact to the economy of the Island and could result in ever higher costs for services or a greater shortage of workforce. Finally, the amount that would have to be collected from the tolls would have to be significantly greater than the current $240M estimated project cost. Specifically, issuing costs and interest for the bonds that would have to be issued would have to be included in the project financing as well as the costs for maintenance and repairs of the roadway while the bonds are in repayment. All of this together would create a much more expensive project than one that could be paid for from a combination of sales tax revenues and State/Federal Grant funds.

5. What if the referendum passes but we do not receive funds from the SIB and feds so we cannot do the project? What happens to the $120.0 million? Are the $10.0 million and $30.0 projects still viable? What happens to the $80.0 million? The money that is collected from the sales tax must be spent on the projects that are identified in the referendum and approved by the voters. So, yes, the $10M and $30M would unquestionably be viable. The need for improvements in the US278 corridor is not going to go away. As such, the $80M will need to be utilized with other sources of funding to put together a project that is going to accomplish the needs of this area. Specifically, creating additional capacity to reduce traffic congestions and to reduce accidents and improve traffic safety through this corridor.

6. Why can’t the recently passed Gas Tax pay for all of this? Until the 2017 increase in the gas tax the state gas tax had not been adjusted for 31 years. No adjustments for inflation or for fuel efficiency. That policy decision lead to an enormous backlog of projects. Some of the new revenue from the gas tax is supposed to go towards the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) from which we expect to apply for $120 million of funding if we do raise local funding. Also, the SCDOT is putting $40 million towards this project, money that has already been put aside for the deteriorating span of the bridge complex to Hilton Head Island.

Public Participation

1. How exactly, will the public participate throughout this project? Public meetings have already begun to occur both on Hilton Head Island and off the Island as well. The public will also have multiple opportunities to participate in formal public meetings as part of the Environmental Assessment (EA) process. Additionally, it is likely that both Beaufort County and the Town of Hilton Head Island, working in conjunction with SCDOT, will need to conduct multiple public meetings in order to finalize project designs and award construction contracts. Each one of these meetings presents an opportunity to the public to provide comments and feedback regarding each of these processes and the overall project as a whole.

2. How will citizens be kept informed & updated? The SCDOT will create a US 278 project website specifically dedicated to the US 278 project. The county has created a website, beaufortpenny.org, to keep track of frequently asked questions and provide status updates to the public for the penny referendum as a whole. Additionally, the Town, County and SCDOT will be utilizing newsletters, mailings and social media updates to keep the community informed about the project status.

Economic and Social Benefits

1. What are the Economic, or Safety or other benefits of improving US 278? Tourism and second home ownership are significant economic drivers for not only Hilton Head Island, but for the entire Lowcountry area. The Hilton Head economy contributes a significant amount of Beaufort County’s revenue. If the traffic flows within the project boundaries continue to deteriorate to the point where it begins to discourage residents and visitors from coming to this area, purchasing a home, or going out to eat, shop, etc., then there will be significant economic impacts to those areas which in turn will harm all other areas of the County.

2. Will this impact other Hilton Head and Lowcountry Priorities like Workforce Housing, Education needs, Roads & Sewers and other major projects? Yes and no. Because this project does not rely upon any governmental General Fund dollars, existing projects and priorities identified by both the Town and the County will not be impacted by this project from a financial standpoint. However, improving the traffic through the US 278 corridor will have indirect positive impacts on things like workforce housing, commerce delivery and educational needs.

3. Why is there so much being said about Safety and Emergency considerations? Because US 278 is the only surface transportation link to the islands, a proactive approach must be adopted to maintain the safe and efficient travel of vehicles.

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