THAT'S LAUDERDALE

Life in the fast lane getting edgy around Bluffton

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMarch 6, 2014 

Scott Gregory of the S.C. Department of Transportation packs the ground around a new speed limit sign on U.S. 278 raising the speed limit from 45 mph to 55 mph in Bluffton

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

For Lent, I might give up driving on the new Bluffton Autobahn.

That is a stretch of U.S. 278 that now has three lanes in each direction instead of two as it barrels through Bluffton, linking Hilton Head Island to Interstate 95.

Now that construction is finished, we can see that our new amenity offers many advantages not discussed as we paved the way for more progress.

It is a boon for jobs, for example, because we suddenly need a lot more psychiatrists. I'm sure I'm not the only one who gets paranoid now that missiles of steel come at me from both the left and the right, as well as front and rear.

Professional help is the only answer when the thought creeps into your head that these missiles are driven by people who are hard of hearing and nearly blind, racing between retirement meccas. Or they might be Tourist Dads ripping down the home stretch of a nonstop trip from Ohio.

But the biggest advantage is that we can now enjoy the thrills of Atlanta without having to leave town.

Atlanta's I-285 perimeter has cars flying around like bullets, and also the Spaghetti Junction. But our own twist of steel and concrete is now rising from the marsh. When the U.S. 278 flyover gets finished, a lot of people won't leave the house, much less town. I may not leave the fetal position -- under the bed.

Somebody needs to slow down enough to beautify the medians of the autobahn, which now look more like overgrown ditches and litter traps.

In truth, this strip should be called the Hilton Head Autobahn.

It used to be that most folks dashing to the beach went through Bluffton the old-fashioned way, on S.C. 46.

It was big news when auto clubs started routing travelers around Bluffton on U.S. 278. Too many of them had become painfully familiar with Bluffton's old trademark, the 30-mph speed limit sign.

Yankees pitched hissy fits in letters to the editor. Bluffton, they ranted, had no right to impede such important people on their way to Hilton Head. The letter writers assumed heads would roll in the wake of their condescending screeds.

They didn't take time to notice that the only things they made roll in Bluffton were the blood-shot eyes of the natives.

A 1982 story in The Atlanta Constitution helps give perspective to our new life in the fast lane. Writer Emma Edmunds did a great job of capturing the spirit of Bluffton back then, when it was untamed, and slow, and proud of it.

"Its most urban feature is a policeman," she wrote, "who sits ready to siren down anyone who speeds through town trying to escape the tar-paper shacks, ugly service stations and houses that look mildewed and in need of Lysol.

"Blufftonians -- in their snobby way -- hope outsiders pass right along and don't discover the beautiful May River, the true heart of town. 'It's our protection,' they say of the ugly S.C. 46 that tourists travel."

Now we've got the protection of paranoid speed demons.

That, and Lent.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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