US 278 widening causes safety concerns at St. Gregory

astice@islandpacket.comOctober 28, 2011 

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A median crossover on U.S. 278 will remain open for parishioners and students at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church while the highway is widened.

To parishioner Michael Vezeau, that means a dangerous intersection will become even more risky because of additional lanes and construction activity.

"Going to church and taking kids to school ought to be the safest things we can do," Vezeau said. "To me, it's a great concern. Nobody seems to be putting safety first."

The two-year project, which will widen a five-mile stretch of the thoroughfare from four lanes to six, will require closing eight median crossovers from S.C. 170 to Simmonsville Road, according to Chris Smith, S.C. Department of Transportation resident construction engineer.

The median in front of St. Gregory isn't one of them because of Beaufort County's plan for a frontage road linking the church parking lot to the entrance to Berkeley Hall, Smith said.

The frontage road has been controversial since it was proposed in 2007, and many Berkeley Hall residents oppose it.

The eastern section of the frontage road, which would run to the traffic light at the Bluffton Township Fire Station, has been approved. To build the western section through Berkeley Hall property, the county had to seek federal permits to fill a quarter-acre of wetlands.

Berkeley Hall residents appealed that permit last year, and the matter remains in litigation, according to county attorney Josh Gruber.

Until the county can build the frontage road, the median serving St. Gregory the Great will remain open during and after the U.S. 278 widening, according to parish manager Joe Ruoto.

Ruoto reminded the St. Gregory community of the situation in a recent parish bulletin.

"It's always been an issue for us," Ruoto said. "We're very fortunate the Sheriff's Office provides officers to help us with traffic direction during our busiest times."

The church has more than 6,000 members and about 225 students at the school.

"We need it to be open for the time being to get people in and out," Ruoto said. "The big issue is really the frontage road -- when is Beaufort County going to do that?"

Both county and state studies show the crossover is unsafe and should be eliminated, said county engineering and infrastructure director Rob McFee.

But, McFee said, "it will remain open until SCDOT and Beaufort County can resolve access issues through there."

The U.S. 278 widening is scheduled to begin in November and be completed in 2013, according to the DOT.

APAC Southeast of Savannah has been awarded a contract for the work for more than $23 million, Smith said.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at

Related content

  1. U.S. 278 widening could begin by late October, Aug. 19, 2011
  2. Plan for frontage road near Berkeley Hall entrance delayed, Feb. 26, 2010

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