The Bluffton Police Department and the S.C. Highway Patrol have heard the community’s call and ramped up traffic enforcement on U.S. 278 in Bluffton. Both agencies have stationed extra patrol cars indefinitely along the six-lane highway in hopes of curbing a spike in serious crashes.
As of the last count on July 23, Bluffton Police had issued 56 tickets for the month, including 19 since increased patrols began July 16 along the stretch of the highway that is within town limits. By comparison, 39 tickets were written in June. And 33 tickets were written during the entire month of July 2013.
The Highway Patrol is writing more tickets too. For the entirety of U.S. 278 (not just the part that runs through Bluffton) troopers issued 149 tickets between July 1 and July 22. That’s up from 97 tickets during the previous three weeks.
These two law enforcement agencies deserve our thanks. Enforcing the 55 mph speed limit is a must to prevent wrecks along the newly expanded highway that funnels millions of tourists onto Hilton Head Island each year. It also serves as a Main Street, where drivers pull off to shop and eat. Too often, drivers are following too closely or speeding, rendering them unable to slow down in time for other drivers who are making turns on and off the road, switching lanes and trying to figure out how to get to the vacation house they’ve booked for the week.
In addition to the increased patrols, traffic signal improvements have also been made. Most recently, a new signal was installed at the intersection of Hampton Parkway and U.S. 278 near S.C. 170. And early reports are good about additions to the signals at Buckwalter Parkway and Buck Island Road that require drivers to wait for a green arrow before making left turns, prohibiting foolish dashes across three lanes of oncoming traffic.
But enforcing the speed limit and the handful of signal improvements may not be the panacea to this deadly traffic dilemma. It may be that additional, complementary changes are needed to make the road safer. Indeed, Beaufort County traffic engineers have raised concerns that the stretch of road seems to be more wreck-prone than similar roads around the state. Speeding, they speculate, may be just one reason for the large number of wrecks. In a two-day period last month, three wrecks at major intersections on U.S. 278 resulted in one fatality and nine injuries.
To figure it out, the S.C. Department of Transportation is conducting a $20,000 road-safety audit on the corridor from the Beaufort-Jasper county line to Hilton Head Island. A team of state, county and town officials will soon study each of the recent wrecks along the road, and a consultant will be hired in the next few months to draft recommendations for safety improvements.
While some residents have balked at the cost, we think it’s a good investment of public dollars. If more can be done to save lives along the road, we’d like to hear how. And a study backed by the DOT is likely to set a fire under state and local officials to actually implement the changes.
Also, it’s important that a comprehensive plan be implemented, not just a new signal here or there that addresses one traffic problem but fails to improve the corridor’s overall safety.
The best use of public dollars is expenditures that benefit us all. This certainly fits the bill.