A critical first step was just announced that should make U.S. 278 in Bluffton safer. The S.C. Department of Transportation, at the request of Beaufort County, will conduct a safety audit of the stretch of highway from the Beaufort-Jasper county line to Hilton Head Island.
DOT, along with engineers, law enforcement officials and emergency responders at the state, county and town level will compare the highway's safety to similar routes around the state. And they'll also consider ways to make it safer for the many drivers who travel it.
We welcome the news and look forward to improvements to the bustling stretch of highway. Like Beaufort County officials, we too suspect that the road has become increasingly wreck-prone. The audit should help identify why that is, provide a comprehensive list of needed changes and set a fire under officials to make the improvements.
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There are no signs that the rate of wrecks is slowing down. Just this past Saturday, four people were injured in a three-vehicle wreck when a car attempted to turn left onto Buck Island Road and failed to yield to oncoming traffic.
Beaufort County traffic engineer Colin Kinton said it appears the majority of the wrecks were caused by drivers following too closely, going too fast for conditions or being inattentive.
We'd add that the addition of two lanes last year has many drivers behaving as if the road was an interstate. Many appear to fail to realize that U.S. 278 serves two very different purposes -- shuttling millions of tourists to Hilton Head Island and also serving as a city street with many curb cuts. Drivers are caught off guard by vehicles slowing down to turn left or pull into restaurants and shops.
And as we've said before, speed is a factor. An increased police presence to enforce the 55 mph speed limit could save lives. The Bluffton Police Department has applied for a grant to pay for two officers dedicated to traffic enforcement. If the town is not chosen as the grant recipient in September, we'd urge Town Council to find the money in the budget for the positions.
Recommendations on how to improve the highway are expected by the end of the year. In the meantime, we'd urge residents to follow the speed limit, give other drivers space and keep an eye on the road.