JASPER CO., S.C. (WSAV) — The five and a half mile stretch from the Talmadge Bridge to South Okatie Highway has proven to be one of the most dangerous drives in the area.
Highway 17 (Speedway Blvd.) claimed the two lives late Thursday night in a head-on collision just north of the Talmadge Bridge.
Though the drivers were wearing seatbelts, two back seat passengers in one of the involved vehicles were not. As a result, 44-year-old James W. Reynolds, of Beaufort, and 22-year-old Alexis Hilbert of Miami died.
Today would have been Hilbert’s 23rd birthday.
SCHP’s Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team is working to determine exactly how the cars ended up in the same lane, but unfortunately, accidents like this are not uncommon on Highway 17.
Taking your eyes off the road for even a second can put you in front of oncoming traffic.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation started a project last February to widen the road from two lanes to four and add a grass median, protected bike lanes, and a second back river bridge to Savannah.
But while the project awaits approval from the Georgia Department of Transportation, SC Highway Patrol says drivers can make better decisions on the road.
“Whether you have a two-lane roadway, a four-way road lane, or a 6-way road lane, or an interstate — that’s not gonna do anything. That’s not the issue,” says Sgt. Bob Beres with SC Highway Patrol. “It’s the people on the roadway that aren’t paying attention or not making sound judgments decisions on their driving. That’s what causes collisions and fatalities.”
A few months ago GDOT resurfaced the road as part of the maintenance, adding rumble strips so drivers who veer out of their lane will feel it and, hopefully, adjust.
There have been fewer accidents since the rumble strips were added, but Highway Patrol says it’s still not the answer.
“It’s a reminder to the motorists that you’re about to run off the roadway, so you either need to put down your phone or limit your distractions or keep your vehicle on the roadway,” says Sgt. Beres, adding, “but it’s not the end all be all; it’s just an additional tool to keep you from running off the roadway.”
The widening project is expected to start in late 2017 and last until about 2021, which will make it all the more important to pay attention.