Highway 278 Widening Plan Approved

If you drive around Bluffton and Hilton Head at all, you know the headache of Highway 278. But now, finally, they're getting a little help.

It's actually been planned for almost five years now, but today the transportation commission gave final approval to adding a lane each way from Simmonsville Road to the bridges.

It may not be the final answer to Bluffton's traffic problems, but many motorists say it's a start.

"Adding a couple more lanes, even if it's not enough, it's a step in the right direction and something needs to happen," said driver Maria Robertson of Bluffton.

"If it alleviates my time to get to work, all the better then," said Marissa Dancer.

Over the next few months, contractors will begin the process of making Highway 278 six lanes and hope to actually start work on the road by early fall.

"We're delighted that they're moving forward with the plans," said Weston Newton, chair of the Beaufort County Council. "It's a shame that it's taken four years to get to where we are, to move forward with the widening."

In approving the additional lanes, the transportation commission did away with a toll booth idea that was wildly unpopular with people around Bluffton.

"I think it would bottleneck and slow traffic up, too," said driver Jeff Sears. "I've seen in Chicago where they've had toll booths and it's just like a race track whenever they take out of those toll booths you see smoke coming off the tires."

Of course the widening project is just one part of the overall plan to help traffic woes, and priority number one is still extending the Bluffton Parkway all the way to Highway 170--a $70 million project, but officials say it's worth it.

"Twenty-five percent of the traffic is forecast to be taken off of 278 if we can get that roadway built," said Bluffton mayor Hank Johnston.

County officials are looking for ways to pay for that project. Their latest idea is to go through the Department of Homeland Security of all places. They're trying to get the parkway designated as a vital hurricane evacuation route.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com