Wanted: Police patrols on congested US 278

U.S. 278 through the Bluffton area needs greater attention from law enforcement agencies.

The danger for drivers exploded when a 5-mile stretch of the highway was widened to three lanes in each direction last November. The highway now has three lanes stretching in both directions from the causeway to Hilton Head Island to S.C. 170 at Sun City Hilton Head, and motorists seem to think it is a freeway.

Vehicles now come at each other from both left and right as drivers switch lanes. And intersections are harder to maneuver, and more dangerous.

Safety is challenged by the fact that the road must serve two purposes at the same time. It must be both a national highway, funneling millions of visitors to Hilton Head Island each year, as well as a city street lined with businesses.

The main problem appears to be that traffic is moving too fast.

Bluffton Police, the S.C. Highway Patrol and the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office need a coordinated and greater presence on the highway to keep vehicles more closely to the 55 mph speed limit.

We do not know all the factors involved in a rash of terrible wrecks on U.S. 278 in early June, but it appeared from the damage that speed made things worse. In a two-day period, three wrecks at major intersections on U.S. 278 resulted in one fatality and nine injuries.

Since the widening project was finished, safety has been addressed. A 45 mph zone with flashing lights was established near the St. Gregory the Great school.

And more recently, a major, positive improvement was made for turn lanes at Buckwalter Parkway, Hampton Parkway and Buck Island Road. New left-turn signals restrict motorists from making foolish and dangerous dashes across three lanes of oncoming traffic that is moving much faster than they anticipate. That system should be watched closely by engineers and made even more restrictive if need be. The new signal offers a flashing-yellow left turn signal on occasion, so motorists can cross oncoming traffic when it is safe to do so. But for our money, no one should be allowed to turn left across three lanes unless all oncoming traffic is stopped.

Also, following the bad wrecks at Buck Island Road, we have seen a Bluffton Police Department vehicle in that intersection often. Similar adjustments must be made to address issues as they arise.

But one thing that won't change anytime soon is the need for greater police visibility in the suddenly treacherous six-lane speedway through Bluffton.