As a two-vehicle crash brought traffic to a standstill on S.C. 170 Wednesday, drivers were faced with a now-familiar quandary.
Bail or wait it out.
It's a relatively common dilemma when wrecks snarl traffic on highways throughout Beaufort County, where there are more bridges than shortcuts and a major artery, Interstate 95, is often miles out of the way.
The latest manifestation of this problem came Wednesday near the Beaufort-Jasper county border, where a head-on collision shut down S.C. 170 for several hours.
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The S.C. Highway Patrol, assisted by several agencies from both counties, shut down all four lanes of the highway to clear the vehicles from the road and allow a medical helicopter to land. None of those agencies, though, put out a radio advisory about the 2:30 p.m. wreck, and drivers said that lack of information exacerbated their delay.
"I know there were a lot of frustrated and aggravated people," said Carol White, whose 50-minute commute from Hilton Head Island to Beaufort took two and a half hours Wednesday.
Highway Patrol Trooper Hannah Wimberly said Friday she did not have information on how traffic was rerouted following the wreck. The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and Hardeeville Police Department helped block roads and reroute traffic, though it was not clear Friday which of the thre agencies took the lead.
While the Jasper County Sheriff's Office was not involved, Chief Deputy Roy Hughes said his agency has handled other backups on the highway. He urged drivers to have patience and remember most serious wrecks result in injuries or deaths.
"That's amazing to me, when someone (is injured or killed) and people complain about being stuck in traffic," he said. "You try to do the best you can to get it flowing, but there's certain things you can't do."
White, however, said she simply wanted more information.
"There was no announcement, no nothing."
A DOMINO EFFECT
Troopers reopened the westbound lanes of 170 around 5:30 p.m. Eastbound lanes were reopened by 6 p.m.
Wimberly said some delays are inevitable following multi-vehicle wrecks.
"Even when a road is shut down for 10 minutes, it usually takes another 10 or 15 minutes to get it flowing," Wimberly added. "It's like a domino effect. Every car needs to get rolling again."
Wimberly said the trooper investigating the wreck did not call her until about 8:30 p.m., so she did not send out alerts. Highway Patrol also generally sends information directly to the media through Nixle alerts -- which go to subscribers' phone numbers or email addresses -- rather than sending advisories over the radio, Wimberly said.
She said that could change in the future if troopers have time to get details about the wreck to a media relations representative.
TURNING PEOPLE AROUND
Even then, there's not always a good alternate route.
"Sometimes, there's nothing we can do but turn people around," Wimberly said.
On Wednesday, some drivers tried doubling back to U.S. 278 only to hit more roadblocks.
Others slogged through hours of gridlock because they didn't know a medical helicopter landing would keep roads shut down for longer than usual.
"Should have been home already," one man wrote on the Beaufort Gazette's Facebook page, posting from his car just after 5 p.m. "So much for getting off early."
Some drivers simply pulled off the highway, choosing to spend their money on shopping and food instead of extra gas.
Michael John Adams of Port Royal said he gave up waiting and went to eat at the Okatie Cracker Barrel, about a mile from where U.S. 278 meets S.C. 170.
"I hope it will be cleared by (the) time I finish eating," Adams posted to the Gazette's page at 5:50 p.m.
The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office sent several messages over Twitter alerting people when the road was closed and re-opened. However, Capt. Bob Bromage said deputies would have taken traffic direction from Jasper County authorities.
Hardeeville Police Chief Sam Woodward said that's not the case, and his officers take orders from Highway Patrol.
"They tell us where they want us to be so they can route the traffic a different way," Woodward said, adding that he understood drivers were frustrated by the delays. "It's a real pain (on S.C. 170) because you've only got certain roads you can go down to get around it."
Wimberly agreed Highway Patrol is in charge of traffic, but said assisting agencies often handle those tasks themselves. Troopers are sometimes too busy clearing the wreck, gathering information, visiting hospitals and interviewing the parties involved.
"I don't want to say the last thing he's worried about is traffic, but he's got bigger problems," Wimberly said. "He's got to investigate."
White, who hit the standstill traveling westbound near Pearlstine Drive about 4:25 p.m., said she spent her whole commute scanning the radio for information.
She didn't find any.
She and dozens of drivers were redirected back to U.S. 278, but with no details about where the wreck occurred, they didn't know they would hit more roadblocks by taking Argent Boulevard.
White eventually took Interstate 95, and made it home to Beaufort by 6:30 p.m.
While others chose to wait out the traffic in a restaurant or store, she said, that wasn't an option for her.
"I have a one-track mind when I get off work," the 49-year-old said. "After 10 hours, I'm ready to be home."
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.
- Driver injured in Okatie Highway wreck identified, cited, February 12, 2015