Citizens, State Call for Highway Widening

A recent accident involving two military buses in Beaufort could lead to improvements on a deadly stretch of highway in the Low Country. South Carolina's Public Safety Department says nine people have died and 32 others have been injured on US Highway 17 since September of 2002. The most recent accident left three sailors dead. Residents say the 22-mile stretch of road needs to be widened before more people die.

State transportation officials say they've been trying for more than ten years to get the stretch of highway four-laned, but can't get clearance because of environmental impacts. The widening  is vitally important for people who live along highway 17. They say there's too much traffic along this road for two lanes to handle.

The Navy bus wreck wasn't the first accident in the area, but it was the biggest, and it's gotten the most attention. People who live along the stretch say 17 has got to be expanded, because there's simply not enough room for the cars that travel on it. "If you run off the road too fast, and hit one of them potholes, you ain't got no control," said resident Joe Hamilton. "You can't straighten up on this narrow road especially with a bus and them tractor-trailers."

For those others who live on Highway 17, something as simple as going to the mailbox has turned into a dangerous adventure. "Sometimes there are about 12 to 15 cars passing before I can even get over and when I get over, likewise coming back over," said resident Mary Lee Robinson.

The state patrol has said that even if it had been on a wide road, the driver of the Navy bus was at fault, and even four lanes wouldn't have helped. But some people maintain that the damage could have been lessened if there was more room for the tractor-trailer.

"I understand the driver tried so hard to get out of the way of that bus, but he had no place to go," said Robinson. "Either get hit, or in the ditch."

Now this is a fight people have been waging for years. Robinson showed us a pile of paperwork she's got with different proposals and applications dating back to 1990. The state says it's going to apply again, but they don't know if it will get the go-ahead.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite,