278 Improvement Plan Problems

The big issue in Beaufort County these days is what to do about Highway 278. An overflowing crowd listened to the latest proposal last night and offered their own opinions on it during a town hall meeting in Bluffton.

Everyone seems to agree that something needs to be done, but most of the people in attendance weren't exactly supportive of this newest plan.

If you're heading eastbound in the morning or west in the afternoon, Highway 278 is a headache to say the least. People around Bluffton are tired of it. "278 is their lifeblood to get to and from work, and to and from the doctor, and to and from school, so they're passionate about this," said Mayor Hank Johnston.

They turned out in force to hear a proposal by a private firm that the county is going to consider. The idea is to wipe out intersections entirely, by installing an express lane and a series of loops to turn back around without using stoplights.

Many people are skeptical about that last part. "You have to take your life into your hands to come into that 55 mile-per-hour--70 mile-per-hour lane, not 55," said resident Bill Hamilton. "As far as the loops are concerned, you're doing the same thing."

To make room for those loops, contractors would have to put in a series of overpasses, another unpopular aspect of the design.

But what could be the killer is one of the ideas for paying for this major project. A very large majority of people at Wednesday's meeting are against the idea of tollbooths. "When you look around the rest of the State of South Carolina, very few roads in this state have to have tolls and quite honestly we shouldn't have to be considering tolls here," said Beaufort County Council member Weston Newton.

That being said, without legislative approval for more transportation money--and without the local option sales tax--finding funding sources could be tough.

Regardless of this particular long-term fix, most people seem to agree that first they need to add a couple lanes to Highway 278 and also finish the Bluffton Expressway, which is another four-lane road that runs parallel to the highway.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com