Nervous parents and Sunday drivers will find their commutes on U.S. 278 near Buckwalter Parkway in Bluffton a bit easier and much safer by this time next year.
The traffic congestion near St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church will abate with construction of a frontage road that connects the church campus with the entrance to the Bluffton Township Fire District headquarters and the entrance to Berkeley Hall at the Buckwalter Parkway intersection.
A new, full traffic light planned for the fire station entrance will give eastbound drivers heading to church and school a safer way to cross the highway than waiting for a break in the traffic.
“It’s difficult to get in here, but the police force has done a really good job on Sundays,” said St. Gregory pastor Monsignor Ronald Cellini. “It’s during the week we worry. We have three Masses every day. Just regular weekday traveling is dangerous, and Saturday night. With the new lights and all the development on the property, I think it’s just going to be a nice flow.”
The project was officially underway following the Dec. 15 groundbreaking ceremony at St. Gregory. It was a plan 10 years in the making, as noted in remarks made by state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and several others at the ceremony.
“I think it’s a long time coming, with a solution that really is a win-win for all sides,” Davis said. “I think everybody is satisfied with the outcome. It’s not one of those situations where you get somebody begrudgingly accepting something. You’ve got a deal that really meets the needs of all parties here.”
The church was dedicated Sept. 3, 2000. With the 2007 dedication of the school, the need increased for a safer way into the campus.
“The challenge has been having decent access into our school and church property. Even with the changes that they had made to help alleviate some of that concern, it actually created more of a challenge,” said St. Gregory School Principal Chris Trott. “Morning rush is a challenge on 278, and so when you have folks who are trying to make a U-turn, it’s very dangerous.”
The western end of the frontage road will merge into the main access road of the church’s neighbors at Berkeley Hall. In August, that gated community’s residents voted 315-4 in favor of the project after six years of negotiations.
“I think it’s a good, safe solution for everybody for the safety of the kids and for the parishioners coming to St. Gregory and also for our residents,” said Adrian Morris, general manager and chief operating officer at Berkeley Hall. “Putting the light at the fire station has really helped everybody and was one of our major concerns.”
When the agreement between Beaufort County and Berkeley Hall was announced in August, Beaufort County Administrator Gary Kubic stated in a press release that the county had the funding already in place to complete the project, which was designed by Bluffton landscape architects Witmer-Jones-Keefer Ltd.
At the groundbreaking ceremony, Deputy County Administrator Josh Gruber said the work would begin immediately, with the goal to have the project completely open from the east end to the west end by the time the next school year starts in August.
“It’s an aggressive schedule, but we want to have that in place for the students to have that to utilize before they start school,” said Gruber. “It took a little bit of compromise by all parties to finally come to a solution that’s going to allow for a frontage road to get in here that’s going to help make it safe for both the parishioners and the students to come in and out of this property.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.