FOLLY BEACH — People move to this quirky island on the south end of the Charleston area to find their own slice of paradise. 

But on Saturdays in the summer, the idyllic beach lifestyle of the region's barrier islands, including Folly and elsewhere, turns into a traffic nightmare. 

"In the season, you don't plan on going anywhere," Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin said. 

The three main barrier islands in the Charleston area — Folly, Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island — are all communities with year-round residents. But by their nature, all three locations have limited connections to the rest of the region.

And on Saturdays in the summer they also host the brunt of people around the area, all with the same idea: Why not go to the beach?

"There's 15 days a year where you're going to have traffic," Folly City Administrator Spencer Wetmore said. "Just count on it."

City officials in Folly say they've made recent efforts to alleviate the bumper-to-bumper crush, including adding a middle turn lane on Center Street and manually operating the one traffic light during the busiest times. 

"It still gets backed up, but it doesn't take as long to get through the system," Goodwin said.

But locals still know the drill: Grocery shopping gets done before the day trippers arrive, and summer weekends mean either staying on the island or knowing when you leave that getting back on won't be possible until evening. 

Plus Saturday is check-out, check-in day for a lot of weekly rentals. 

The same problem extends to Sullivan's and Isle of Palms. The islands don't have quite the same reputation for snarled traffic as Folly, in part because the people there "are going to keep their mouth shut," joked Lajuan Kennedy, who owns Fred Holland Real Estate on Folly.

But the two islands are connected to each other, letting residents of either area drive in the opposite direction if there's a blockage on one of the bridges. 

Still, Saturdays and Sundays, particularly in the summer, lead to a crush of cars in almost any direction. When the drawbridge on the way to Sullivan's opens, it can mean an even longer wait, islander Paul Boehm said. 

And on IOP the larger volume of vacation rentals with people leaving on Saturdays means traffic in both directions. 

"Tempers flare sometimes when the traffic gets bad," Boehm said, adding he's heard stories of frustrated locals and motorists getting into physical altercations.

Jimmy Carroll, the mayor of Isle of Palms and a native of the island, said that his town, Sullivan's and Folly bear most of the brunt of new arrivals to the Charleston area. New housing developments market how close they are to the beach, and the hordes of people who end up in one of those three locations grows every day, he said. 

That leaves small, coastal governments to pay for the costs of policing huge volumes of people brought by larger regional growth. 

"Quite honestly, it's not fair to us to have to police, have to protect, have to clean up after everybody," Carroll said. "To me, it should be a Charleston tri-county issue."

Adding to traffic frustrations are situations like the one a few weeks ago, when the S.C. Department of Transportation decided to do resurfacing work on Palm Boulevard — IOP's main thoroughfare — right as the season was starting to ramp up, Carroll said 

"I'm not trying to be ungrateful, I'm just trying to say, let's put our heads together and work on the best time to do that kind of work," Carroll said. 

Compounding the issue of both traffic and parking is a lack of public transportation to get people to and from the beach.

Some said people's traveling behaviors have also changed. Kennedy said that in the '50s and '60s, seven or eight young people might all pile into a car to take a day trip to the beach. 

Now, even if people are meeting each other in the same place, they all take separate vehicles, clogging the roads for everyone else, Kennedy said. The causeway onto the island slows to a crawl, and people throw trash out their window while they're stuck, she said. 

Still, she said, Folly will always welcome its visitors. 

"This is a public beach, so come and enjoy it," Kennedy said.

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Reach Chloe Johnson at 843-735-9985. Follow her on Twitter @_ChloeAJ.

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