The folks who voted Tuesday want a lot more than uncluttered roads — they want a time machine.
They want to go back to a Lowcountry that wasn’t nearly as crowded, roads that were nowhere near as congested and an atmosphere that was far less contentious.
Wouldn’t we all.
Sitting in the ridiculous traffic we deal with every day is enough to make anyone steaming mad about unbridled growth. So voters took out their rage on incumbents they blame for over-development, which was perfectly within their rights.
They replaced them with shiny new candidates who promised, "No more."
Sorry, but if it was as simple as “just say no” we could’ve called Nancy Reagan years ago.
The Charleston area has become so popular no one can afford to live where the jobs are, so they must commute and clog the roads. That's the problem. Stopping growth alone won't solve that, and may make it worse.
The only thing that might help is public transportation ... or some affordable housing.
That's why Charleston is floating $20 million in bonds, to build housing that working people can actually afford. Some will no doubt point out that ship has already sailed.
But at least someone’s trying.
Price of fame
As Abigail Darlington reported Sunday, Charleston is on its way to big-time San Francisco and New York real estate prices ... without the commensurate wages.
In this market, it is almost impossible to buy a median-priced house on a median salary. So many rent.
The average rent for an apartment around here is $1,600. By prudent financial measures, a family needs to make about $58,000 a year to afford that. The median income here is $55,000.
So the problem with a development like the Standard isn’t only that Maybank Highway didn’t need more traffic — it’s that most workers can’t afford to live there anyway.
That means some poor guy has to drive all the way from Goose Creek to pull a shift at Melvin’s on Folly Road.
Local municipalities approved many of these developments like the Standard and the Boulevard to combat the shortage of apartments and affordable housing. But they didn't do enough to demand more affordable pricing.
They should have known developers would drive up costs. Land here is too attractive and valuable to waste on starter homes and modest apartments, especially when you can get big bucks from retirees migrating from Ohio and West Virginia.
Charleston is going to use $20 million in bonds to build 800 affordable housing units with private and public developers. That’s a decent start, but it won’t be enough. And people will still likely raise hell about every one of them. Which is crazy.
Everybody wants a grocery store near their home, then oppose any housing that the store’s employees can actually afford.
Back to the future
During the campaign, some of these candidates promised the moon.
They put up signs declaring “No more developement (sic) disasters.” Guess they really do put an extra “e” on everything east of the Cooper.
But the new members of Save Shem Creek Town Council told Post and Courier reporter David Slade they have no specific plans beyond limiting growth and improving infrastructure.
Don’t hold that against them, because there isn't much to do. An apartment moratorium and astronomical impact fees are already in place. The only way to reduce traffic is to go back in time and stop BrickYard, Dunes West, Rivertowne, Park West ... you get the picture. And that ain’t happening without Doc Brown’s DeLorean.
So don’t blame these newly elected officials if congestion doesn’t dissipate overnight.
But if they don’t do something about affordable housing, or find a way to invest billions in public transportation, blame away. Because traffic will get worse.
People used to say Charleston was turning into Florida, but it's more accurate to say we’re becoming Hilton Head Island. Check out the bridge to the island around rush hour. It’s a madhouse.
Hilton Head is a wonderful place to live with absolutely no affordable housing for the people who actually work there. That's our problem in a nutshell.
So this new crop of politicians can, and probably should, say no to everyone — especially developers who cram so many upscale houses on a single lot that they creep onto the sidewalk.
If they don't do something about affordable housing, these mind-numbing commutes will not improve. Then they will be the ones voted out in four years.
If traffic isn’t too bad to make it to the polls.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com.