The traffic "pitchfork" proposed for Maybank Highway appears to be gaining support, but the devil's in the details.
A consultant jointly hired by Charleston County, the city of Charleston and the Coastal Conservation League has concluded that making Maybank Highway on Johns Island a four-lane road with an additional turn lane, as planned, is the wrong way to go.
Instead, in a recommendation that mirrors a plan the city has been advocating, consultant Rick Hall said a network of interconnected two-way streets should be created to disperse traffic on Johns Island.
A key aspect of that plan is dealing with the intersection of Maybank Highway and River Road, where traffic backs up during the evening commute nearly to the Stono River.
"That's the knot that needs to be untied," Hall said.
And that's where the pitchfork comes in.
Picture Maybank Highway as the handle of the pitchfork, going from the Stono River toward the intersection with River Road.
The plan advocated by the city and Hall's company calls for adding new two-lane roads — the forks on the pitchfork — that would connect to Maybank Highway in the area around Fenwick Hall Plantation.
The additional streets would connect to River Road, allowing traffic turning right or left on River Road to be separated from traffic continuing onto Maybank Highway.
The network of streets would also encourage the sort of dense, mixed-use development the city would like to see around that intersection.
Hall said the alternative — widening Maybank Highway — also would relieve the traffic backups but would encourage car-based developments, such as traditional subdivisions and drive-thru banks.
"I like the idea of the pitchfork, but I'm trying to understand the practicality," said County Councilwoman Colleen Condon. "I don't want to agree to something we can't afford."
The county has $30 million budgeted for Maybank Highway, with half the money coming from the voter-approved half-cent sales tax.
The half-cent tax raises another issue because the county's lawyers have concluded a new referendum would be needed in order to pursue the plan favored by the city.
That's because the original half-cent referendum specifically identified widening Maybank Highway as one of the plans the tax would fund.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said the city's legal team disagrees because the city's plan calls for adding a turn lane and bicycle paths that would make Maybank Highway wider.
"I think there are a significant amount of questions that need to be answered," said County Councilman Paul Thurmond.
Hall suggested the city and county lawyers get together to address the referendum question while his firm gathers details on the right of way needed for the pitchfork and what the project might cost.