It's that time of year again when Hilton Head Island is full of visitors. Now, we love our tourists here, we surely do, but the influx of drivers unfamiliar with the island can cause problems on our roadways. So here are a few important driving tips that will get you safely around the island.
The first traffic issue is actually getting onto Hilton Head. No, you are not on the Island when you take Exit 8 off of I-95; you still have about 25 miles to the bridges to get onto the Island. Yes, Hilton Head is an actual island, and there are bridges to get onto the island. In the summer months, especially on Saturdays, Hwy 278 from exit 8 to the bridges can be a cruel mistress as there is only one way on and off the island, and everyone is aiming for their 4PM check-in time. So be aware that traffic can come to a standstill between 12:00 and 5:00 but you will be at your destination soon.
Once you are on the Island, it is useful to know that Hwy 278 (also known as William Hilton Parkway once on the island) is the main road that runs across pretty much the whole island, going from the bridges to the Sea Pines Circle. At the Sea Pines Circle, you will see that two other major roads veer off this circle – Pope Avenue, which will take you to Coligny and the Forest Beach area; and Palmetto Bay Road, which will put you on the Cross Island.
The Cross Island Expressway is a toll road that opened in 1996, and if you don’t have a transponder (a Palmetto Pass), you will need to pay $1.25 each way. The Expressway is a great means for cutting about 15 minutes off your travel time if your goal is to get to Sea Pines or the South End of the Island. If you are going to Hilton Head Plantation or onto Palmetto Dunes, it is probably best to just stay on 278. Stay on Business 278 when you see the signs for the Cross Island Expressway.
Besides knowing about the highways and roads, it is important to know about the prevalence of roundabouts (better known as traffic circles). Two of the Island’s most significant (directionally speaking) are the Sea Pines Circle and the Coligny Circle. Islanders often use these circles as landmarks when giving directions. There are also smaller roundabouts sprinkled throughout the island. These are our way of keeping traffic moving, but they do have specific rules. As you come up to a circle, you must yield to the traffic in the circle and then ease your way into traffic going right (Remember all circles move counter clockwise). If there is no traffic, keep moving into the circle as there is NO stop sign. While they take some getting used to, the roundabouts do work and keep our traffic moving, but you must obey the rules. As you can see from the image at the right, there is a wrong way to go on the circle, so be careful (so glad our Beaufort County Sheriffs were on their toes that day!) Speaking of being careful, please remember to be safe and watch your speed while you are here. Whether you’re driving in a plantation or on the highways, plantation security guards and Beaufort County Sheriffs will watch your speed for you and give you a ticket if you’re speeding.
The last thing people wonder about is our lack of signs and street lights. This is a planned community, and we stick with a very specific look – our signs blend into the foliage to ensure a peaceful, cohesive look, and there is no neon whatsoever. Even McDonalds can’t have its golden arches. While this quirk might make it difficult to get around at first, once you know where things are, you won’t even mind. And as far as street lights go, we don’t want them to interfere with the night sky, especially when you’re taking a late night stroll and can see the heavens and all the stars. Remember, you’re on vacation. Relax and enjoy the island.