MOUNT PLEASANT -- A new federal permit for the $84 million U.S. Highway 17 widening project may be required if its design is changed to accommodate the concerns of hoteliers on Magrath Darby Boulevard, officials said Tuesday.
That could significantly delay the scheduled completion of the road work.
"It could have a tremendous negative impact to the schedule," said Kurt Taylor, Charleston County deputy administrator who oversees the transportation sales-tax programs.
Under the design for the widening, U.S. 17 southbound traffic would not be permitted to turn left onto the boulevard where the hotels are located. The turn is now allowed.
A town "mobility study" suggested eliminating the left turn, and design of the three-mile project incorporated that recommendation, said Jim Armstrong, county director of transportation development. "We've done what they wanted us to do," he said.
Widening the highway from four lanes to six lanes is due for completion at the end of next year.
"Now, at the 11th hour, we are getting this," Armstrong said.
A permit for the work, including the new intersection design, was issued under the National Environmental Policy Act. Having to jump through those hoops again was worrisome to county officials.
"That could take a very long time," Armstrong said.
The Town Council Transportation Committee on Tuesday heard from lawyers and a traffic consultant speaking on behalf of the hotels. Attorney Ben Hagood told the committee that eliminating from U.S. 17 the Magrath Darby left turn to the hotels would mean $8 million in lost profit and $22 million in lost property value. The boulevard leads to the Red Roof Inn, the Days Inn, the Hampton Inn, the Best Western and a Mobil convenience store.
The consultant told the committee that redesigning the intersection to restore the left turn would not appreciably worsen traffic in the area near the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.
Currently, northbound rush-hour traffic often backs up onto the bridge.
Project construction is $14 million over its original budget, and further delays will increase cost, Armstrong said.
"Ultimately, it's County Council's project. The final decision would come from the county," he said in an interview.
The Transportation Committee voted Tuesday to have its staff meet with county staff to further explore the issue and report back to the committee.
"We're open to looking to see if this can work," said Brad Morrison, town Transportation Department director.
Armstrong said the county and town would consult with the Federal Highway Administration and the state Department of Transportation.
The improvements from the Ravenel Bridge to the Isle of Palms connector are funded by the half-cent RoadWise program sales tax voters approved in a referendum. Sidewalk, curb and drainage improvements also are planned. Traffic snarls are a daily occurrence on the boulevard, which handles 45,000 cars daily, a figure expected to jump to 70,000 by the year 2030.
In addition to relieving traffic, the town sees the road project as a starting point for a redevelopment project that would change the look and feel of the frontage roads, which would become more bike- and pedestrian-friendly with shops, offices, cafes and green space.
Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711.