It likely will be years before the Hilton Head Island bridges are widened or replaced, but in the meantime, local leaders are searching for ways to help traffic flow more smoothly along U.S. 278. Among them: looking at the timing of traffic signals.
“I think we all acknowledge that there is a lot of congestion onto and off the island,” Beaufort County deputy administrator Josh Gruber said Thursday. “The problem has been exacerbated since Hurricane Matthew, with all of the extra trucks removing debris and repairing damage. So, anything we can do to reduce congestion is worth considering.”
County traffic engineer Colin Kinton said earlier this week that the question on everyone’s mind is: “What can we do now to buy us a little more efficiency over the next several years?”
“We are actively working with (the S.C. Department of Transportation) and the Town of Hilton Head to try to pool some financial resources to get a consultant on board to review the traffic flows and come up with some recommendations for revising the signal phasing and timing,” he said.
The goal would be making sure the signals keep traffic flowing and waits at red lights to a minimum, county officials say.
“Hopefully we will get something going in the next month or two,” Kinton said.
Darrin Shoemaker, Hilton Head Island’s traffic and transportation engineer, said Thursday the town recently made “some rather subtle changes” to timing of the traffic light at Squire Pope Road to make it a bit quicker getting onto U.S. 278.
But while he said he “remain(s) open minded” about additional signal changes, Shoemaker questioned whether those would be “a magic bullet” for solving the congestion issue.
He suggested a series of other relatively minor things that can be done to make the traffic flow more smoothly that do not entail significant capital improvements.
“We looked at the school bus routes in the critical entry area” onto the island in neighborhoods off U.S. 278, Shoemaker said, and determined that “shuffling the pickup order” for certain stops could help reduce the number of buses on main arteries at particularly busy times of day.
The town has passed on its findings to the Beaufort County School District for consideration.
“It seems like every other day there’s an accident that gets things all backed up,” he said, recommending a couple of ideas to reduce the impact fender-benders have on traffic.
First, the town could install signage “at certain strategic locations” reminding drivers to remove their cars from the roadway after a minor wreck with no injuries, Shoemaker said.
He also recommended that the state incorporate the area around the bridges into its emergency patrol zone program, which uses specialized pickup trucks to assist motorists with issues such as flat tires or empty gas tanks.
Even if all of these recommendations are put into practice, “I don’t think we are going to see substantive and permanent improvements until we get some additional lanes,” Shoemaker said.
A series of roadway improvements along a four-mile corridor of U.S. 278 between Buckingham Plantation Drive in greater Bluffton and Squire Pope Road on the island is expected to cost upwards of $200 million and take the better part of a decade to complete.