Can Maybank be widened without losing live oaks?

Charleston County wants the state Department of Transportation to seek its approval before cutting grand trees on Maybank Highway. File 

JOHNS ISLAND — Charleston County hopes to widen Maybank Highway without cutting down even one grand live oak tree, but the sprawling root systems and lateral limbs put a few trees at risk.

Molli LeMin, project manager for the county’s transportation department, took representatives from the city of Charleston and the state Department of Transportation on a tour of the project area Wednesday. Both groups must grant permits for the county to widen Maybank Highway from two to three lanes between the Stono River and River Road.

Every weekday, traffic backs up as Maybank Highway narrows from four lanes on the Paul J. Gelegotis Bridge over the Stono River to two lanes as it enters the island.

For years, local residents have called for fixing the choke point.

The county plans to add an extra lane on the north side of Maybank to make late afternoon traffic flow more smoothly.

In November, LeMin said the work would impact four of the many trees that provide a scenic canopy over the highway. But, she said, the city of Charleston wanted the work done without cutting down any.

In response, the county has been placing stakes along the road, marking how it will be widened without removing any trees, she said. But the massive root systems and the overhanging limbs of one or two of the trees still could be harmed by traffic.

An arborist is studying those trees and will recommend how to handle them, she said. “The biggest thing we’re trying to do is keep the tree canopy.”

Natalie Olson, a project manager for the Coastal Conservation League, joined the tour and said her group also doesn’t want any trees removed. “There’s a way to do it,” she said. “We need flexibility.”

The widening project is the second of three phases of a $15 million plan to improve Maybank Highway on Johns Island.

LeMin said she hopes construction on the road widening can begin in August and be finished six months later.

The first phase — resurfacing the highway from River Road to Main Road and adding a bike lane— was completed in October.

The final phase involves creating a “pitchfork” by adding roads on the north and south sides of Maybank Highway that would connect to River Road.

LeMin said the county hopes to begin construction on the north pitchfork road in early 2017 and the south pitchfork road in the spring of 2018.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.