Bill Rauch: Woods Bridge Crash Reminds Us There’s No Traffic Plan

Last week a pick-up crashed on the Woods Bridge and knocked the bridge out for a day. As Port Royal Town Manager Van Willis likes to say: “When the Woods Bridge is down it’s chaos over here.”

“Over here” is the Port Royal approach to the McTeer Bridge, the only way on and off the islands when the Woods Bridge is down.

Never mind that the Beaufort mayor’s blog said the city council was “smelling the roses” last week. Good for them. The rest of us were bumper to bumper in the chaos and smelling one another’s exhaust.

Sure, the 1971 classic swing bridge is going to go down once in awhile, and there’s going to be some chaos. That’s not the problem.

The problem is new rooftops are going up fast on Lady’s Island, and there’s no action plan that addresses how the additional 2.4 cars per house will get across the Beaufort River. No plan. Not even a glimmer of a plan. The plan, if you can call it a plan,  is that there will be increasing chaos.

Let’s be clear. This issue is not new. There have been plans. Several.

Forty-six years ago in 1971, for example, the South Carolina Highway Department promulgated the BEAUTS (Beaufort Area Transportation Study) Plan that called for a by-pass — or “ring road,” as they call such things in Europe — all the way around  Beaufort, including a bridge at Brickyard.

But the powers that be at the time found the Brickyard portion of the plan infeasible. Bridges are costly, right?

Then, a generation later back in the late 1990’s the Beaufort County Council member who then represented Lady’s Island, Mark Generales, got motivated. Standing up for his constituents, he said the afternoon traffic off the Woods Bridge in the afternoons was “intolerable.” The McTeer Bridge, Mr. Generales proclaimed, must be four-laned.

Never mind that the South Carolina Department of Traffic’s engineers, the county’s in-house traffic experts, and the City of Beaufort’s City Council all expressed their preference for the bridge at Brickyard instead, Councilman Generales had his way and the parallel bridge at McTeer was built only to find that the experts had been correct and that with the extra lanes available on the McTeer Bridge corridor there was no appreciable effect upon the situation at the Woods Bridge.

About that time Councilman Generales exited the scene and the City of Beaufort called for $5 million to be put on Beaufort County’s 2007 penny sales tax referendum for studying, engineering and buying right-of-way for a “third Beaufort River crossing,” wherever the experts that the county hired said it should be.

That penny tax measure passed and the county’s traffic consultants got with SCDOT and took another look at the situation. What they concluded was, surprise, that the solution to the Carteret Street/Woods Bridge/Sea Island Parkway congestion is to build a bridge at Brickyard and an improved corridor that would connect Sams Point Road to Highway 21 just west of the Air Station.

Why? Because many of the occupants of the cars who cross the Woods Bridge are residents who live in northern Beaufort County’s largest bedroom community, Lady’s Island, and who work at northern Beaufort County’s largest employer, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

These people twice daily, and the million visitors a year to Hunting Island, and others would take the Brickyard Bridge.

Moreover, with more jets on the way the area’s largest employer is getting larger all the time. And with more houses being built on Lady’s Island there will be more homes there to accommodate the newcomers.

All they have to do is get there.

By the way, since the current Beaufort City Council has placed its top priority on business development, “traffic counts” are good for business, but traffic is not — which translated means one of government’s key responsibilities to the private sector is to keep the cars moving.

The 2009 study cost $500,000 and Beaufort’s mayor and council — in fact some of the same members who were smelling the roses last week — stood by in silence in 2010 while the other $4.5 million of the penny sales tax money that had been allocated to the third Beaufort River crossing was spent on road improvement projects in Bluffton.

So where does that leave us now? When there was resolve to build a bridge, for political reasons it was built in the wrong place. And now — irrespective of the pressures that are greater now than then — it appears there is insufficient resolve to put a bridge where for the past 46 years the traffic experts have been saying it should go.

Accordingly with respect to traffic in Beaufort, it appears today there is nothing ahead except more.


Bill Rauch served as Mayor of Beaufort from 1998-2008. The above article was published April 27, 2017 in The Island News, and is reprinted here in its entirety with the permission of The Island News.

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2 thoughts on “Bill Rauch: Woods Bridge Crash Reminds Us There’s No Traffic Plan”

  1. Name*Jo Haertel

    All new development needs to be staged slowly with infrastructure provided prior to new home and commercial development. Many communities from California to the Adirondacks stage new development. Yes, we need a bridge at Brickyard Point. In addition we could eliminate so me of the local traffic on Carteret St. buy providing a a shuttle along Boundry and Carteret (trolley?) for tourists and those who work and live downtown. This could be paid for by a room tax on all accommodations. It’s the 21st century so let’s think out of the box. In Washington D.C. a tramway is being considered across the Potomac River to relieve congestion into the city. Portland Oregon also has a tramway, as does the resort town of Telluride Colorado. Consider how lovely a tram ride from downtown out to Walmart with a few stops in between would between. Tourists love the village feel of downtown Beaufort so we need to protect that resource by looking to the future for solutions. Providing more downtown parking only encourages more congestion. Safe bike and walking paths near but not adjacent to busy roadways is also part of the solution. The people are trying to lead here (Sea Island Coalition), now the leaders need to follow. Success in tourism is a slippery slope. Too much development can ruin what residents and visitors love about this area. Look just south of us to see what unfettered growth brings. I don’t want to hear why we can’t fix this due to financial or other constraints. Our nation got where we are by having a can do attitude, not whining about why we can’t.

    1. Jo – Late getting to your comment here, but you are right on the money. A fundamental problem facing Lady’s Island is that neither the city nor the county are taking responsibility for the place. Development is happening piecemeal, with no plan in place. The Coalition, together with the Coastal Conservation League, is pressing for a plan, and the county – at long last – has issued a Request for Proposals to town planning firms so we can at least have an idea of how much a plan would cost. It’s one step forward.

      Later this month, we will be releasing a report on the Designing Lady’s Island initiative, which will set forth key development-management principles we hope to get the city and county to accept and abide by. Step two.

      A third step is to keep the pressure on, and let city/county officials know we are watching. Without a strong and continued public presence, the process will return to the back rooms where everyone’s interest – except the community’s – get taken care of first.

      Thanks for writing.

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