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Toll Era Rolls Onto Hilton Head

January 16, 1998

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) _ There are some odd new sights on this posh resort island dotted with golf courses, tennis courts and trendy boutiques: three pay stations along the state’s first toll road in years.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was planned today for the dedication of the 6.8-mile Cross Island Parkway, but the long-awaited road won’t be ready for traffic until sometime next week.

The last time South Carolina motorists paid a toll is believed to be the late 1950s, when it cost $2.50 to cross a private bridge onto Hilton Head. The state abolished the toll when it later took over the bridge.

With the search on for new road money, pay roads got another look. Another toll road is planned near Greenville and tolls have been proposed for a suburban Charleston expressway.

``We are seeing with some of the more expensive projects that gas tax revenue alone may not be enough,″ said Neil Schuster, executive director of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

Tolls can get roads built more quickly, as was the case with the $81 million Cross Island Parkway. It is an alternative to U.S. 278, the island’s asphalt spine that leads to resorts like Sea Pines Plantation, site of the MCI Heritage golf and the Family Circle Magazine Cup tennis tournaments.

On a bad day in tourist season, it can take almost an hour to wind along the 12-mile route from the mainland to the end of the island. In the 1980s, the state said it had no money for the parkway and tolls would be needed if it were to be built any time soon.

The four-lane parkway veers off from the main road as motorists arrive on the island. They will drive along four miles of expressway, pay $1 at a forest green toll plaza, then cross a graceful bridge arching over Broad Creek. There are two unmanned toll stations at a nearby exit.

``I’ve been waiting for this bridge for 40 years,″ said Mike Lynes, a builder who grew up on the island. ``I’m not crazy about the toll but if that’s what it takes to get the bridge, bring it on.″

For the first month, the entire highway will be free so motorists can get used to the new route.

``It’s wonderful for anyone living on the island full time. But it’s going to open things up to more crowding,″ said Jack Vukelic, a retired businessman and island resident who doesn’t mind the toll.

Some islanders opposed the parkway. Build it, they argued, and too many people will come. People will come anyway, proponents said.

``The idea was incorrect that if we didn’t build the road that magically somehow people would stop coming,″ Mayor Tom Peeples said. He predicted that many of the 13,000 local workers who live off the island will use the highway.

Image-conscious Hilton Head residents did request that their new road, originally called the Cross Island Expressway, be renamed a parkway _ not surprising in a town that once required the Red Roof Inn to install a brown roof.

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