Sidewalks and bike paths from the Bluffton Parkway to Bridge Street will enable children to bike or walk to Michael C. Riley Elementary School from nearby neighborhoods. GWYNETH J. SAUNDERS

The impetus for a planned transportation project intended to widen Burnt Church Road from Bridge Street to the Bluffton Parkway is improving the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers.

The tentative designs – there are four at the moment – that were presented at a mid-November public meeting included a 6-foot sidewalk, a 10-foot multi-use path and 4-foot bike lanes on both sides of the road. The two-lane road would be widened to also accommodate a center turn lane.

“In a complete-street fashion, this provides space for all users,” said Eric Claussen, Beaufort County’s director of engineering. “When there was a discussion about how to use the 2018 transportation tax, a survey went out looking for input on walking and bike paths.”

In the summer of 2020, the county created an online survey that asked for input on walking and cycling habits and what the county’s residents wanted. The month-long survey consisted of a multiple-choice question and answer section, and a mapping section in which respondents were asked what new facilities or improvements they would like to see. Nearly 2,000 people completed the survey, and nearly 75% felt that investing in bicycle and walking systems were very important. 

“That’s basically where the idea came from,” said Claussen. “In the most recent comprehensive plan, long-range improvements were proposed for Burnt Church Road. This gave us the opportunity to look at the potential to not only improve pedestrian accommodations but to improve the safety of that corridor.” 

An increase in development along the route as well as its proximity to, schools, recreational areas such as the boat ramp on Alljoy, and Old Town with its many events made the potential for a boost to bicycle and pedestrian activity.

This project connects with the widening and pedestrian accommodations on Burnt Church between the Parkway and U.S. 278, but also ties in on the Bluffton streetscape project on Bridge Street and then the sidewalk improvements to Alljoy. In this concept design phase, the engineers took the center line and turned it into a two-way turn lane. 

“The idea is to add that safety element to this roadway for those left turners going into driveways,” Claussen said. “During the busy time when there is travel in both directions, people get impatient and that’s when they take chances.”

A single-lane roundabout will be constructed at the intersection of Burnt Church and Bruin, unlike the two-lane roundabouts at the intersections of Boundary Street and May River Road in Old Town, and S.C. 170 and May River Road in the area of New River. 

“From a traffic calming and safety perspective, it is really going to slow traffic down,” said Claussen. “We had a pretty good turnout at the public meeting and only one person did not like it.”

Another point about the road improvements was to provide a safe walking connection to Michael C. Riley Elementary School and Early Childhood Center. Parents who responded to the survey said it was a priority to provide safe means for children to get to school.

Claussen said nothing is set in stone. The purpose of the first meeting was to provide a concept and take comments with a goal to get to the next step of a preliminary design. Another meeting will be scheduled for spring, when the new design will reflect community input and further investigations for the project.  

“We’ll try to avoid as many trees and as much significant property acquisition as we can. Once we work through what the property impacts are, we’ll go into negotiations with the property owners,” he said. “There’s a lot of things to try to figure out.”

The plans should be complete by early 2023, followed by permitting and obtaining the right of way negotiations that are needed. Construction is expected to start in the summer of 2024.

The engineering firm of Parrish and Partners from North Charleston was contracted to provide the plans. The design cost for this project is estimated at $1,411,334.  

“All of this ties together for a real significant bicycle and pedestrian connectivity for the community,” said Claussen. “On this section of roadway in this area of Bluffton and the improvements that are going on in Alljoy, this is really a win-win for the community.”

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.