Local leaders hope new school speed limit signs will remind drivers to be cautious on U.S. 278 near St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church and school in greater Bluffton.
The S.C. Department of Transportation installed signs last week that flash yellow lights during school arrival and dismissal times and remind drivers of the 45 mph speed limit.
In addition, Beaufort County traffic engineers have reset the timing of the traffic light at the entrance to Rose Hill Plantation to help alleviate traffic, said Colin Kinton, Beaufort County traffic engineer.
Both are an effort by the department and county engineers to make the area safer for parishioners and parents using the school's only entrance while construction of a frontage road designed to give the church better access to U.S. 278 is tied up in court, the school's principal Chris Trott said.
"It is not the safest area, in my opinion," he said.
However, the school speed limit signs are a start and should help train drivers to pay more attention when in the area, Trott said.
The school had a speed limit zone before the U.S. 278 widening began last year, but the signs had to be taken down during construction, said Nathan Umberger, a DOT traffic engineer in the district office that oversees Beaufort County highways.
"We wanted to make sure we got the flashers relocated to make sure the school zone is very clearly delineated," Umberger said. "That was our first priority."
The 45 mph school zone speed limit matches the current 45 mph limit on U.S. 278 from S.C. 170 to Simmonsville Road, so the zone will not require drivers to slow down when the yellow lights are flashing at school arrival and dismissal times, Umberger said.
But that will change later this spring when traffic engineers clear the highway's speed limit to return to 55 mph after studying normal traffic patterns to ensure the planned increase is safe, he said.
"First was to get an overall signing plan, get something very driveable, then we're going to make tweaks based on how that works out," Umberger said.
Adjustments to the timing of the traffic light at the entrance to the Rose Hill Plantation, about 1.5 miles east of the church on U.S. 278, are helping provide breaks in traffic to give parishioners time to exit the church and school parking lot, Kinton said.
During the school's afternoon dismissal at about 3 p.m. on weekdays, and also during Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning service times, westbound drivers at the Rose Hill intersection will be stopped for a few additional seconds, Kinton said.
"It's hardly noticeable, but because of the amount of time it takes for traffic to start up and get up to speed, it provides 30 or 40 seconds of extra time," he said.
However, the long-term traffic solution for the church and school is the construction of a frontage road, Kinton and Umberger agreed.
Last month, Berkeley Hall property owners rejected a settlement offer from the county over concerns the frontage road would cause unsafe traffic conditions at the entrance to the community at the traffic light at Buckwalter Parkway.
"I feel as though, certainly on our end, we've put in to motion our portion of this project, and we're hopefully going to see here soon a resolution between Berkeley Hall and Beaufort County," Trott said. "Then we can get the frontage road moving."
A two-car wreck outside the church's entrance Tuesday killed a Hilton Head Island man, according to Deputy Coroner David Ott. The cause of the accident remains under investigation by the Highway Patrol, but S.C. Highway Patrol Senior Trooper Hannah Wimberly said the crash was not a result of a driver attempting to turn right into the church entrance.
Since all U.S. 278 lanes opened in November, several parishioners have been involved in crashes at the entrance, but most have just been fender benders, Trott said. Neither driver involved in Tuesday's crash was a parishioner, he added.
Video: St. Gregory the Great Catholic School traffic issues (2:18)a St. Gregory the Great Catholic School principal Christopher Trott talks on Wednesday about efforts to resolve traffic issues that limit access to the school and neighboring church.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.