BEAUFORT COUNTY, SC (WTOC) - U.S. 278 between Bluffton and Hilton Head Island could be getting bigger.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation says the eastbound Mackay Creek Bridge needs to be replaced, and in the process, it’s partnering with Beaufort County to study the whole U.S. 278 corridor between Moss Creek Drive in Bluffton to Squire Pope Road on Hilton Head Island.
Craig Winn, SCDOT Lowcountry program manager, said it is the only section of U.S. 278 to Hilton Head that’s four lanes across instead of six.
“We’re planning for the growth in the area, but the traffic as it is now would facilitate the need for six lanes as well,” Winn said. “We’re going to basically study as part of our environmental assessment the environmental impacts as well as the traffic impacts to see what is the best way to resolve the congestion issues out there.”
Norman Epstein works on U.S. 278 and said congestion is already bad, especially during the rental season on Hilton Head.
“When they are leaving the island, it’s just backed up forever, hours, and when they’re coming on the island during the rental season, they’re backed up for miles trying to get across this bridge.”
Since 2013, the department says there’s been an 8 percent increase in traffic in the area with an average of 56,300 cars traveling that stretch of highway every day in 2017.
SCDOT expects the population to jump 41 percent between 2010 and 2040.
Epstein said he thinks additional lanes would help traffic flow.
“It would help a lot. I’ve seen this road go from one lane in each direction. They added more lanes, it works for a while, but this area is just growing fast. It needs an extra lane on each side. It really does.”
Winn said project will cost an estimated $240 million funded with state, local and federal dollars, and construction won’t start for the next three to four years.
The department is seeking input from those who live, work and drive in the area about what they would like to see, and Winn said more than 200 people attended a public meeting on Sept. 27. He said the department heard concerns, particularly from members of the Stoney community, a historic Gullah neighborhood at the entrance to Hilton Head Island, but also heard from many who agreed something needs to be done to alleviate congestion.
Winn emphasized the project is still in the very early stages, and people can submit comments to SCDOT until Oct. 12.