Jimmy Kerr has an idea to solve Johns Island's traffic problems without spending $500 million to extend the Mark Clark Expressway and additional millions to widen Maybank Highway. And the seeds of his idea are in a mostly forgotten study taxpayers paid for a decade ago.
Kerr has spent more money and time on these issues than most. He is a real estate developer whose father bought about 600 acres near the intersection of Maybank Highway and River Road in the 1930s. If the Mark Clark is built, it would go through his and his family's properties.
Because of the Mark Clark project and plans to widen Maybank Highway to five lanes, he and his family spent more than $1 million on consultants to analyze traffic and development patterns in the area.
Some of these consultants came up with ideas to develop about 100 acres along Maybank Highway, though Kerr is quick to add: "If we never develop this land, we're happy."
The consultants and city of Charleston planners eventually began talking about a "pitchfork" design, with new roads -- the tines of the fork -- on either side of Maybank as it flows onto Johns Island.
This would create a road grid that disperses traffic instead of concentrating it onto a five-lane suburban strip. "We didn't think that a Savannah Highway or Ashley Phosphate should be on Johns Island," Kerr said. "I can't tell you this without sounding dramatic, but when I come home at night and cross the bridge, there's a feeling that I'm in a different place, that I've left someplace and come to another."
He said his family's goal was to make sure this "sense of arrival" doesn't change. The pitchfork design is now in the planning stages. Kerr said that solves one major traffic problem, leaving two others:
--The traffic snarl at Savannah Highway and Main Road;
--Moving people across Johns Island to Kiawah and Seabrook islands.
State and local transportation officials have studied the chokepoint at Main and Savannah Highway and have set aside $12 million to improve traffic flow on Main Road.
The second challenge -- moving people to and from Kiawah and Seabrook -- has generated plans for a cross-island highway and plenty of controversy in the process.
In 2001, Kerr was on a panel of citizens, planners and elected officials who studied this issue as part of the "Bohicket/River Road Corridor study."
That in-depth study looked at traffic patterns and possible routes for a new road across Johns Island to Kiawah and Seabrook. It cost more than $200,000, but has largely been forgotten. When contacted, city and county officials couldn't recall it.
It was from that plan and the Pitchfork idea that Kerr came up with another solution to get vehicles to and from the barrier islands: One of the new "pitchfork" roads could guide traffic onto Cane Slash Road. Cane Slash Road could be extended a few thousand feet to Plow Ground Road and Bohicket.
Doing this would create a parallel route to Maybank, taking traffic off that road and extinguishing the need to widen it. It would create a shorter route to Kiawah and Seabrook islands.
All together, he continued, these solutions would make the $500 million Mark Clark Expressway unneeded at a fraction of the cost. "There's a better plan than the Mark Clark, and there's a better plan than widening Maybank Highway."
Isaiah Pinckney, 65, lives on Cane Slash Road and grew up on Johns Island. He thinks extending that road could be a good idea, as well as adding another connection from Cane Slash Road to Maybank Highway. Noting that developers have plans to build hundreds of houses on Cane Slash Road, he said more road connections would help reduce traffic. "They're coming anyway," he said, referring to the new homes.
Kerr said he feels a twinge of guilt over the idea of extending Cane Slash Road through someone else's property. But with that twinge are memories of how various utilities have run power lines through his family's land, and how the city's plans to build the pitchfork also will cut through. "We've been stewards of this land, and I want our children and grandchildren to feel that same sense of arrival that we have today. If we don't preserve that, then I haven't done my job."