William Hilton Parkway Corridor Improvements
On July 7, 2021, the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) released its Environmental Assessment – or EA as it is sometimes called – for the William Hilton Parkway corridor project, including replacement of the US 278 bridges to Hilton Head Island. This long-awaited document identifies the SCDOT’s preferred alternative for the roadway, mapping its route, identifying opportunities to build new infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians, and honing in on specific environmental impacts. The selected alternative would demolish the existing bridges and replace them with one, six-lane bridge slightly to the south of the existing bridge’s footprint.
Unfortunately, the preferred alternative encroaches significantly on the multi-generational native Gullah community in the Stoney neighborhood, which has already disproportionately borne the burden of Hilton Head’s exponential growth since the first bridge to the island was constructed and the roadway was built directly through the community.
Now is the time to voice your opposition to the proposed alternative and suggest changes. SCDOT’s preferred version of the project is not yet set in stone. Alterations and improvements can be made over the next several months and your voice needs to be heard!
We hope you will join us by advocating for a new bridge that avoids impacts to the multi-generational Gullah community in the Stoney neighborhood, minimizes environmental impacts, accommodates future mass transit potential, provides a safe way onto the island for bike and pedestrian traffic, and integrates into the existing neighborhood on both sides of the river.
Growth on Hilton Head Island has been limited or encouraged by the capacity of the road leading to the island. In 1956, a two-lane toll swing bridge was constructed, opening Hilton Head to vehicular traffic for the first time. In 1982, a four-lane bridge was constructed, replacing the old swing-bridge. That year, 500,000 tourists visited the island. The island’s development, its tourism industry, and the bridge are inextricably linked. Today, portions of the bridge can see as many as 56,000 vehicles per day.
We know the existing Eastbound bridge over Mackay Creek must be replaced. It is structurally deficient and no longer meets important building standards. We supported Beaufort County’s penny sales tax which raised matching dollars for the bridge replacement, seizing an important opportunity to make the William Hilton Parkway corridor friendly to drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and nearby residents. But the identified alternative does not accomplish these goals. Furthermore, ongoing planning efforts in the Stoney Community have not been connected to SCDOT’s planning. Those planning initiatives must take place side by side if they are going to maximize the project’s benefit for the Stoney Community, visitors and residents alike.
In September 2019, SCDOT unveiled their reasonable project alternatives – six alternative routes.
Image source SCDOT Project Page
Each route has its own set of environmental and community impacts, and SCDOT staff reviewed comments and input on each to develop their preferred route – Alternative 4A.
We are disappointed that SCDOT’s preferred alternative involves widening the roadway from four to six lanes. Adding more lanes will not improve the flow of traffic, and the wider road will be more harmful to the environment and island communities.
The study area is not broad enough:
Our study of data collected by SCDOT shows that there are points of congestion outside of the project study area that SCDOT defined and examined – both to the south and north – that are contributing to the congestion in this area. In addition, vacationers are not a significant cause of congestion – instead, its predominately commuters moving on and off island for work that creates gridlock. In addition, SCDOT’s analysis did not factor in the toll removal on the Cross Island Parkway, which will significantly affect how traffic moves on and off the island. Without addressing these deficiencies in the study, there is little chance that SCDOT’s proposed changes to the roadway will make any real difference in how traffic flows through the corridor. We recommend that the SCDOT reassess the entire corridor and island road network and make meaningful changes to address the true causes of congestion.
Organizing a system of vanpools, encouraging employers to allow for flexible work hours for commuters, building or redeveloping existing structures into workforce housing, and creating a Transportation Management Association to coordinate vanpools and other group transportation options could reduce congestion significantly. SCDOT should go back to the table and look at options that address traffic throughout the entire corridor. The island is only so wide, and we cannot continue to widen US 278 forever.
Land planning efforts are underway in Stoney:
The Town wisely retained a land planner, MKSK, to study the Stoney area and make recommendations on how the roadway should look, function and be designed. Those efforts are already bearing fruit – recommendations on streetscaping, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and lane width reductions are all included. Their plan would significantly limit the road’s encroachment into the community. All planning and design efforts should be coordinated, and SCDOT should allow MKSK sufficient time to complete their study and incorporate their comprehensive recommendations into an updated road improvement plan.
Traffic-calming measures like vegetated medians and street trees are also likely to benefit the community. Studies show that drivers view communities lined with vegetation more positively. One study found that crash rates on urban arterial and highway sites decreased by 46% after landscape improvements were installed. A robust landscaping plan should be incorporated into SCDOT’s plan. Without these improvement, the William Hilton Parkway corridor looks and functions like an interstate with traffic signals. The roadway should feel and function more like a traditional community street. This is also in line with the Town of Hilton Head Island’s goals to create an impressive gateway to the island.
An EIS must be conducted:
SCDOT’s plans for the William Hilton Parkway corridor and bridge replacement will result in significant impacts to the human environment, including native communities like Stoney which has been designated a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. A more thorough and rigorous Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) evaluating the full scope of impacts from, and alternatives to, this significant roadway project is necessary.
While SCDOT’s preferred alternative is not entirely off base, substantial improvements are needed to address the significant impacts that will result, greater coordination is necessary between the local land planner and SCDOT, and a more robust EIS analysis is warranted. Now is the time to voice your concerns about the project, before the designs are finalized.
There are several ways to share your thoughts on the preferred alternative.
On Thursday, July 22, 2021, from 2 PM – 7 PM, SCDOT will host a public hearing at the Island Rec Center at 20 Wilborn Road.
The deadline to submit written comments to SCDOT Is August 22, 2021 through their website here, by email to [email protected], or by mail to Craig Winn, SCDOT Program Manager, 955 Park Street, Room 401, Columbia, SC 29202-0191.
Write to Hilton Head Town Council and Beaufort County Council and ask that they support a better road corridor plan that addresses traffic flow more holistically and contributes to the community sense of place with minimal impacts to residents and the environment.