Charleston City Council signed off on a traffic improvement plan Tuesday for Maybank Highway on Johns Island, calling for a new network of streets rather than widening the two-lane thoroughfare.
On Johns Island there has been a debate about the best way to ease traffic on the highway while preserving the island's rural character and the grand oaks that shade the scenic roads.
Charleston County's road-building program, RoadWise, has developed a plan to turn Maybank Highway into a four-lane road divided by a planted median, with breaks for turn lanes.
City planners and consultants developed a much different plan, however, that calls for a network of two-lane roads intended to disperse traffic. The thinking is that with more ways to get around Johns Island, Maybank Highway would get less traffic.
Council approved the city's concept, which will be reviewed by Charleston County Council in October.
A key feature of the plan the "pitchfork," which roughly describes the
shape of a proposed road network between the Stono River and River Road, where Maybank Highway traffic backs up daily at rush hour.
The handle of the pitchfork is Maybank Highway, coming from the Stono River. The tines are new two-lane roads that would give motorists new routes to and from the bridge, and the proposed Interstate 526 extension, from River Road.
At previous meetings on the road plan, residents and property owners have questioned how the city would acquire the rights of way, and at what cost.
The city hopes property owners will be open to selling, or even giving, rights of way for the proposed roads because those roads would make their properties more valuable as the potential sites of new homes and businesses. Some property owners have said they would go along with the idea.
Charleston's plan for Johns Island, parts of which are within the city limits, calls for developing village-like hubs of homes and shops at several locations, including the area around the intersection of River Road and Maybank Highway.
Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson questioned whether the city's plan would turn parts of Maybank Highway into a slow-moving residential street.
"I want to get where I'm going," she told consultant Rick Hall.
Mayor Joe Riley said Maybank Highway between River and Bohicket roads could see the addition of one or two traffic lights, but would remain much like it is today.
Hall said the plan would lead to pleasant, walkable villages, but he conceded that the speed limit on Maybank Highway would need to drop to 25 mph in the three locations where village-like development is proposed: at River Road, Bohicket Road and midway between.
Representatives of the Coastal Conservation League and the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors spoke in favor of the city's plan Tuesday, as did several Johns Island residents and property owners.
No audience members spoke in opposition to the road network and "pitchfork" plan.
Councilman Tim Mallard, who represents the portion of Johns Island within the city, asked what the road network would cost, and how soon it could be done.
Hall said the first phase of the plan, the pitchfork, could cost $3 million more than the Maybank widening plan, if I-526 is not extended.
Add at least $18 million if I-526 is extended, Hall estimated based on costs projected in 2013, because a flyover would be needed from the bridge to one of the new pitchfork roads.