U.S. 21 widening on St. Helena begins
October 5, 2006
A road construction firm given accolades for a widening project on Lady's Island in 2003 has started work on the widening of U.S. 21 on St. Helena Island.
U.S. Group started work Sept. 7 on the 3 miles of the highway from the Chowan Creek Bridge to Tomm Fripp Road, surveying and moving trees and power, phone and sewer lines, company spokesman Earl Capps said Wednesday.
The project, which Capps estimated to be about $10 million, was estimated at $12.9 million in May. It had been delayed to find a funding source but is expected to be completed by June 30, 2008. An S.C. Department of Transportation spokesman could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The project will add a center turning lane and traffic lights at Martin Luther King Drive and Polowana Road.
The widening should have minimal impact on traffic, Capps said, because restrictions will keep workers from closing any lanes daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and around holidays. Work will be suspended from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3, the week of Thanksgiving and a week before and after July 4.
During the planning stages of the road's expansion, residents spoke out against the increase in traffic it could cause. Bids on the project originally were expected to be made in March, but officials delayed it because of the community's protest.
U.S. Group has started clearing trees and marking others for preservation, including one live oak named the Emancipation Oak because it's said to mark a site where slaves were read the Emancipation Proclamation. The improved road will lie south of the tree's existing roots, putting it much farther from the tree than it is now, Capps said. Trunks of trees to be preserved are being covered with orange plastic netting for protection.
Fran Sobieski, a co-owner of the Red Piano Too Art Gallery on St. Helena Island who has spoken out about disruption construction could cause, said she had noticed them cutting trees and covering others along the road but "so far, everything has been going smooth"
"There has got to be some inconvenience, that goes without saying," she added. "We just don't know how it's going to affect the business here."
U.S. Group was chosen based on its bid, the lowest of all applicants, Capps said -- not on its work on the Sams Point Road project on Lady's Island, which finished within budget and six weeks early in 2003, earning it a Community Spirit Award from the Lady's Island Business and Professional Association.
"A good company got the contract," said Jim Hicks of LIBPA. "They do a really good job at communicating and working with the community."