The May River Road streetscape project is nearly completed. By next summer, area residents and tourists will be able to walk safely through the heart of Old Town from Burnt Church to Buck Island Road.
There will be on-street parking, landscaping and streetlights, improved roadbeds for the increased traffic, and more curbs and gutters.
This has been a project 10 years in the planning and execution, and long-time Town Councilman Fred Hamilton calls it another accomplishment for Bluffton.
“This is something to check off that truly has been a serious undertaking trying to fund it as well as design it,” Hamilton said. “It was challenging getting all the citizens on board to be a partner in this project.”
Not only will be the streetscape be safer for travelers, it will look a little nicer. “It will be a total facelift and give Bluffton an identity to visitors and residents to enjoy, as well as making the wayfinding process through the town to be more identifiable,” Hamilton said.
The streetscape project began in 2008, the result of a town council-citizen effort to create the “Old Town Master Plan” in 2006.
“The cost of May River Road Streetscape-Phase 1 was approximately $2.2. million dollars,” said Debbie Szpanka, Bluffton public information officer. “Phase II of the May River Road Streetscape Project has a budget of $4.7 million dollars. Current project costs are higher than initial value-engineered estimates.”
Szpanka said initial estimates were given under different market conditions than those existing today. “The uptick in the construction industry associated with the improving economy changed the supply and demand dynamics associated with raw materials and construction services alike,” Szpanka said.
“The biggest challenge from my perspective has been funding. Parking along the May River Road also has been a challenge for me because many times the parking near intersections has created some blind spots,” said Hamilton. “Identifying those issues and bringing them to council has sometimes been difficult until citizens complained. I’m still not completely satisfied with those blind spots because cars park right at the intersections and drivers can’t see left or right. But overall, the design and the curb appeal have been very inviting.”
Curb appeal was part of what prompted the town to develop the Old Town Master Plan.
In the final publication, the participants in charrettes and workshops acknowledged that while May River Road as S.C. 46 is part of the regional road network, it also cut through the heart of Old Town, making it a challenge for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers to travel together.
“Pedestrians are not comfortable due to a combination of factors, including higher speeds and traffic volumes and a lack of pedestrian-oriented destinations,” the plan stated. “The historic, walkable Old Town character should be extended along a redeveloped network of streets, while simultaneously continuing to serve the automobile function of May River Road/Bruin Road (S.C. Hwy 46).”
The sidewalks and new businesses have brought the desired effect of increased pedestrian traffic, although that, too, has brought the challenge of an increased need for parking.
This is an issue the town council is beginning to address with the $1,095,000 purchase of 1.47 acres at 68 Boundary St., adjacent to DuBois Park.
In addition to providing an estimated 26 parking spaces, this project will increase the walkway network along Boundary, Lawrence and Green streets, connecting Calhoun Street with DuBois Park and nearby neighborhoods and businesses.
“It also makes for walkability. It will make our storefront-type community come alive,” Hamilton said. “It’s very inviting and it brings visitors door to door to the merchants.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.