That's Lauderdale

Widened US 17 through God's country now complete

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comNovember 7, 2013 

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U.S. 17 is called the Ocean Highway because it hugs the waves of the Atlantic, like so many of us like to do.

It's called the Kings Highway because it predates the American Revolution.

It's called the ACE Basin Parkway through our neck of the swamp.

But now comes the best name of them all.

You can call it complete.

Four lanes are now open all the way to Charleston.

Construction on the 22-mile stretch from Gardens Corner to Jacksonboro is finished, or so it seemed Saturday when I breezed up to the Holy City for basic supplies: sweetgrass baskets and lunch at The Glass Onion.

One red light in Jacksonboro is the only thing to stop you now, unless you brake for alligators. Let the Germans have their Autobahn. Now in the Lowcountry we have our Okrabahn. Where we used to slam and jam with 18-wheelers tailgating us, we now glide with the grace of a shag dancer who has time to enjoy the scenery.

Construction work to widen the deadly road with no shoulders started in 2007. But doing something about it had been talked about since the early 1990s.

And even though more than 30 people had been killed in a decade along that stretch of two- and three-lane road through marsh and woods, it took a grave tragedy to get people stirring. Three sailors were killed March 12, 2004, when their bus headed for Beaufort crashed into a truck near Gardens Corner.

Some pushed for a safer highway that also would blend with the natural resources and colorful neighborhoods along the way.

With the $175-million job has come the new Harriet Tubman Bridge over the Combahee River, a safer Gardens Corner intersection, guardrails, medians and shoulders. It's still one of the main routes for trucks pouring out of the Charleston port. But suddenly, the drive to Charleston no longer has the feel of a white-knuckled death march.

When I realized what I was experiencing Saturday, I thought of those three sailors. They were stationed aboard the USS Pinckney, then a brand new destroyer docked temporarily in Charleston. They were part of a large entourage coming to the Beaufort National Cemetery to lay a wreath on the grave of the ship's namesake, William Pinckney of Dale. Pinckney received the Navy Cross for rescuing a fellow crew member onboard the USS Enterprise in World War II.

Somehow, there's a connection. A wider highway through God's country should spare others from pain and suffering.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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