Toll road proposal rejected
A Charleston County Council committee Thursday shot down a controversial proposal to build a toll road across Johns Island.
Councilman Paul Thurmond, whose district includes Kiawah and Seabrook islands, proposed the resolution, which asked the state Department of Transportation to seek proposals from private companies to build the toll road.
But council's Planning and Public Works Committee voted 5-3 against the resolution. Only Councilmen Thurmond, Teddie Pryor and Tim Scott were in favor of moving forward with the road. Councilman Henry Darby abstained from the vote.
Councilman Curtis Inabinett, whose district includes Johns Island, said he had been leaning toward supporting the proposal but changed his mind after receiving "countless e-mails and telephone calls" from constituents opposed to it.
The road, known as the Sea Islands Parkway, has been discussed, on and off, for more than a decade, he said, but opposition to it "has become more heated" in the past year.
Inabinett also said that before he could support construction of the road, he needed to know the exact route, where the on-ramps would be, and how many landowners would be affected.
"Those questions, in my mind, have not been answered," he said.
Inabinett then asked council members to approve forming a committee of people that have a stake in whether the road is built to study how to best deal with traffic on Johns Island. His motion passed with the support of six council members. Thurmond and Scott were opposed, and Darby abstained.
Supporters of the parkway say it would reduce traffic problems on Johns Island's two-lane roads, making them safer. And it would provide a faster route from Charleston to Kiawah, Seabrook and the southern end of Johns Island. They also say it wouldn't contribute to increased development because it would have a limited number of access points.
Opponents say it would encourage development, bring more traffic and ruin the rural character of the island.
After the committee's decision, Buddy Darby, chief executive officer of Kiawah Development Partners, who supports the parkway, said the county doesn't need another study on the road. It has already had two studies done and both indicate that the parkway is the best solution for traffic problems on Johns Island. And, he added, he previously tried to bring together people and groups who have a stake in the parkway, but those who are opposed never could commit to a meeting.
Thurmond said the county had studies done in 2001 and 2007 and both indicated that the parkway was the best way to deal with traffic problems on Johns Island.
"People are miserable right now and Johns Island is going to continue to grow and be developed," he said.
Bill Holtz, who serves on the Seabrook Island Town Council, said he's disappointed, but not surprised the resolution failed. "A vocal group (on Johns Island) says, 'Keep it rural while we double the number of developments.' "
Paul Roberts, chairman of the Kiawah Island Community Association and founding director of the Center for Transportation Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, blames opposition to the road on the strong influence of the Coastal Conservation League, a group that has stated it doesn't support a toll road.
Megan Derosiers, the league's director of conservation programs, said she's glad the project was voted down. And she supports a study on the network of roads on Johns Island. "It's not just about one project," she said, "it's about the whole island."
Reach Diane Knich at email@example.com or 937-5491.