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New Bluffton Flyover to Ease Traffic Congestion

The popularity of South Carolina's Lowcountry has caused tremendous growth in Beaufort County - with the accompanying stress on local infrastructure.

Wed September 03, 2014 - Southeast Edition
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The southern tip of South Carolina has long been a favorite vacation spot for people eager to play golf, go to the beach or just soak up the Southern charm of Beaufort County. In recent years, visitors also have seen the county as a great place to retire.

The area includes Hilton Head Island, widely recognized for decades as a prime retreat for vacationers and retirees alike. Just to the west of the island lies the small town of Bluffton, and west to Interstate 95 are beautiful neighborhoods on the East Coast.

But the popularity of South Carolina’s Lowcountry also has caused tremendous growth in Beaufort County, with the accompanying stress on local infrastructure such as bridges and roads.

The county and state have improved and widened several major roads in the area and bridges also have been upgraded to handle the increased traffic in the area.

One big project currently underway is the Bluffton Parkway flyover, a $44 million venture that will connect Bluffton Parkway, a relatively new east-west four-lane highway through the town, with U.S. Highway 278, the major road that brings visitors to and from the area from I-95.

“The need for the flyover was recognized approximately 10 years ago,” said Rob McFee, Beaufort County’s director of engineering and infrastructure. “At that time, Beaufort County began an aggressive local construction program to alleviate traffic congestion due to extraordinary growth levels and this project represents the eastern terminus of the Bluffton Parkway and perfects its connection with U.S. 278.”

McFee said that Bluffton Parkway extends from S.C. Highway 170 on the west side of Bluffton to Buckingham Plantation Road several miles to the east side near a marshy area at the edge of the mainland. That segment of the parkway is currently open for traffic.

The flyover, just under a mile in length, will carry vehicles from Buckingham Plantation Road over the marsh and the Fording Island Road extension to U.S. 278 and then on to Hilton Head Island.

Plans call for the elevated roadway to be completed in October 2015. McFee said that the project is about halfway complete.

More Evacuation Routes Needed

The need for a decrease in the traffic congestion on U.S. 278 is acute anytime of the year, but perhaps the biggest reason for building the connection between the two four-lane highways is to ease traffic bottlenecks in the event of an approaching hurricane, according to McFee. Such storms are a threat every year in the Lowcountry.

With two four-lane highways open through the area, the Bluffton Flyover will give people an alternate route when evacuating the area and making their way west to the interstate.

Few Problems Encountered

So far, the work on the flyover, as well as the extension of Bluffton Parkway at the approaches to the flyover, has not been hampered by the weather, McFee said.

“We are going into our second hurricane season, so we are keeping our fingers crossed,” he said. “We were very fortunate last year. Last winter was cold, but for bridge work it was not like we had to deal with hot-mix asphalt.”

The only real problem encountered during the project’s construction was when test results revealed some of the pillars supporting the flyover’s ramps were too short to guarantee its stability.

According to county documents, 21 of the 33 pillars needed to be lengthened — some by only a small amount and some by as much as 19 ft. (5.7 m) The work needed to fix the problem cost around $500,000.

“We had a shaft drilled, which was a full-scale test to confirm design assumptions and some of the capacities turned out to be slightly lower than we had anticipated,” McFee said. “But we were able to lengthen a number of selected shafts and get the problem corrected.”

Work Progressing Nicely

Earlier this summer, the deck still had to be placed on the pillars, but the substructure, encompassing the foundations, footings, columns and caps, have been done. Just prior to that, workers built up embankments, laid down asphalt, did re-striping to temporary lanes and erected concrete barriers along the east-west lanes of U.S. 278.

The general contractor on the Bluffton flyover project is R.R. Dawson Bridge Company, based in Kentucky.

According to Elizabeth Chipman, the project manager for R.R. Dawson, lots of earthmoving has been accomplished at the site. Now, the bulk of the work has been turned over to the bridge company’s Link-Belt cranes, of which it is using several 110 to 200-ton (99.7 to 181 t) machines, she said.

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