U.S. 278 in store for $2 million

Feb 14, 2002
BLUFFTON: Mayor hopes money will be spent to improve safety, not to widen road.
By Rob Dewig Carolina Morning News It's not quite what everyone originally wanted, but it's more than some people expected. U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson on Thursday announced that he had successfully added $2 million for improvements on U.S. 278 back into the federal omnibus budget bill, less than a week after Sen. Fritz Hollings was forced to omit it. "This is a huge victory for residents in and around Hilton Head Island and, really, the entire state of South Carolina," said Wilson, a Republican, in a press release. "This has been a top funding priority since I was first elected in 2001, and I am so pleased to see my colleagues acknowledge this urgent need." The omnibus bill was expected to be approved by the House in a Thursday night vote "barring any huge blowup," Wilson spokesman Wesley Denton said. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said it should pass the Senate today. Hollings, a Democrat, originally added $4 million for the road in the omnibus budget bill, but removed it from the bill before it went to a joint House/Senate conference committee. Wilson, with the help of Rep. Jack Kingston from Savannah, added $2 million back in and got it passed through the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. Kevin Sheppard, the South Carolina Department of Transportation's 278 project director, said he was unsure where the money would be spent. The DOT is currently working to widen the highway to six lanes from Hilton Head Factory Stores 2 to the Fording Island Road Extension just west of the bridges to Hilton Head Island. That project, which will eventually include the highway's widening west to Simmonsville Road, will cost $10 million, including $1 million contributed by Beaufort County. Bluffton Mayor Hank Johnston has long advocated spending any additional money on erecting new stoplights, lowering the speed limit along the highway to 45 mph, and other traffic-calming methods. He said at least some of the money Wilson included in the federal bill should be spent on that. "I think it's encouraging that in these hard times at the federal level we are still able to receive some money," Johnston said. "I hope it can be applied toward the three signals we need (at Buckwalter Parkway, Eagles' Pointe and Rose Hill) and the resynchronization of the lights to a new speed limit." Beaufort County Councilman Peter Lamb, who represents Bluffton, said $2 million is not enough to do what needs done, but agreed that it should at least fund the new stoplights. "At least I'll be able to say 'There's $2 million that can put in traffic lights.' Maybe there's enough money now to say there's no need to have anybody else get killed trying to cross 278." Wilson said, "I've been working with House leaders for months, trying to convey the urgency of addressing the needs of Highway 278. The number of accidents and deaths that have occurred on the road in recent years is appalling and, in the event of a hurricane, the current time estimated for evacuation of over 20 hours is not acceptable. This is a matter of safety and security for the people of the Lowcountry." Wilson said his fellow representatives Kingston and Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky deserve equal credit in fighting for the highway. Hollings, who served on the Senate Appropriations Committee and was a conferee on the House/Senate Appropriations Conference Committee, said, "After two years of hard work, federal funding for U.S. 278 is finally a reality. "Last year, the Senate Transportation Appropriations Bill included $6 million in funding we put in for U.S. 278; however, that figure was unfortunately stripped because there was no money in the House bill. After we put in $4 million this year, we believed we were in store for a similar conclusion. "As construction on U.S. 278 begins, I am pleased that, despite the lack of House funding, appropriators recognized the need to alleviate traffic congestion and provide a safe evacuation route out of Beaufort County." Graham agreed with Lamb that the money isn't enough. "It's not a lot, but every little bit helps," Graham said. "The highway desperately needs improvement and we'll take whatever we can get. I'm sure we'll make another run at obtaining additional funding in this year's appropriation process. "On the House side, Rep. Joe Wilson deserves a lot of credit. He's been relentless with the appropriators to include funding for this project. We're all appreciative of his hard work." Reporter Rob Dewig can be reached at 837-5255, ext. 107. Copyright 2002 Carolina Morning News. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy.