The widening of U.S. 278 in greater Bluffton could be completed within two weeks -- a month ahead of schedule, according to a state transportation official.
"We hope to have all lanes open no later than Nov. 15," said Chris Smith, a construction engineer with the S.C. Department of Transportation who works in Beaufort County. "It's a very strong possibility it could happen by the end of next week, but we're shooting for Nov. 15."
Crews still need to pave a .75-mile stretch from S.C. 170 to just east of the Okatie River bridge, Smith said.
Workers began painting some final pavement markings Wednesday night and still must prepare sections of the westbound shoulder for planting grass, he added.
The department hopes to open all six lanes of the road in increments as portions are completed. The first section to be completed will be all six lanes east from Buck Island Road to Simmonsville Road, Smith said. Those have been approved to open after a concrete island is created at the base of the stoplight overhanging eastbound Buck Island Road, Smith said.
The speed limit on the stretch of the widened highway will temporarily remain 45 mph, even as portions of the road open to the full six lanes, Smith said.
DOT district administrator Robert Clark and district traffic engineers will decide when to resume the 55 mph speed limit after construction ends, Smith said.
"There will be a transition time before it goes back to 55, but I don't have an exact date at this point," he said.
The $23.6 million widening project began in November 2011 and is formally scheduled to end Dec. 15.
A 5-mile stretch of the highway is being widened from its intersection with S.C. 170 in Okatie to Simmonsville Road in Bluffton. U.S. 278 was widened to six lanes from Simmonsville Road east to Moss Creek several years ago.
A mix of federal, state and county money is paying for the project. The county's share comes from a 1 percent sales tax for transportation projects approved by voters in a 2006 referendum.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.