Bluffton traffic law would ban big trucks in Old Town

dburley@islandpacket.comDecember 15, 2013 

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An increase in traffic and visitors to Old Town Bluffton has fueled concerns over safety in recent months.

To allay those fears, Town Council is considering banning large trucks in the historic district.

"I've always been concerned that big trucks going through May River Road are driving too fast," Mayor Lisa Sulka said. "It's a small community that doesn't need big trucks."

Bluffton officials are still determining how to enforce the ban, which several other Lowcountry towns also are poised to pass.

The ban would stop large haulers from cutting through Old Town to avoid traffic on busier routes, such as U.S. 278 and Bluffton Parkway, town transportation project manager Karen Jarrett said.Big rigs would be prohibited from using May River and Bluffton roads between U.S. 278 and S.C. 170. They would also be outlawed from driving on Bridge Street and Bruin Road.

"This way we can push the truck traffic toward Bluffton Parkway, which has always been the intent," Sulka said.

The ban includes dump trucks, semitrailers or any truck "designed, used or maintained for the transportation of material," according to town documents. It does not include vans, pickup trucks or public buses.

It also exempts trucks making deliveries, pickups or responding to an emergency. Jarrett said a truck driver's bill of lading -- a document detailing shipment of merchandise -- would indicate if the hauler has business in town.

The town would post road signs to warn trucks not to access the roads and to show them alternative routes, Sulka said.

Violators would be ticketed, town documents say, but how the town would enforce the restriction is not yet clear.

Capt. Angela McCall-Tanner of the Bluffton Police Department said that since council has not approved the ban, "it would be premature to answer these questions. If it actually becomes an ordinance, we can then discuss enforcement."

Asked how Bluffton police officers would distinguish between a truck making a delivery and a truck illegally passing through, and if police officers would have to pull over every truck driving in Old Town, McCall-Tanner said in an email: "Members of the Police Department will continue to work with council and members of town government on the enforcement side of the ordinance."

Bluffton is not alone in its quest to ban through-truck traffic, state Department of Transportation assistant engineer Nathan Umberger said.

"It's becoming a normal thing in the Lowcountry area," he said. "Historic areas that are meant for local traffic and tourists are looking to prohibit through-truck traffic."

He cited Hanahan and Summerville in Berkeley County as towns working on a ban.

Attempts to reach officials in those towns for comment were unsuccessful.

As these areas continue to improve local roads -- Bluffton Parkway, for example -- more alternative routes have emerged that make it possible for trucks to avoid a municipality's main thoroughfare, Umberger said.

"If you are requiring a truck to go eight to 10 miles out of the way, that's a problem," he said. "But many towns have simple detours designed to handle truck traffic.

"A truck cutting off a few minutes on a route is not what older local roads are intended for."

Bluffton Town Council is scheduled to vote on the ban Jan. 14.

Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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