Maybank relief

Traffic on Maybank Highway on Johns Island creeps along as motorists make their way to the intersection of Maybank and River Road during rush hour Tuesday.

JOHNS ISLAND — Plans to improve Maybank Highway have started moving forward, unlike the traffic that at rush hour backs up on the bridge over the Stono River.

Charleston County on Tuesday held a public meeting at Haut Gap Middle School to give residents information about two proposals to improve Maybank. One included widening the road from the Stono River bridge to Main Road. The other included building a “pitchfork” of smaller roads near the intersection of Maybank and River Road, which would disperse traffic from the congested intersection.

Charleston County Council directed county staffers to move forward with the “pitchfork” plan in 2009, said Kurt Taylor, the county administrator. But the National Environmental Policy Act requires the project to undergo an environmental review, he said. And that review requires that all “feasible and prudent” alternatives be considered. The original widening proposal is such an alternative, he said.

Hundreds of county residents attended the meeting.

Bill Saunders, from the group Concerned Citizens of the Sea Islands, said that although his group supports the pitchfork plan over the widening plan, he doesn’t think either alternative was designed to consider the needs of current residents of Johns Island. Both plans favor developers, he said. “They are selling this as a solution to a traffic problem,” he said. “But we don’t really have a traffic problem.”

Traffic could be improved with simple intersection improvements near the Stono River bridge, he said. And it could be reduced dramatically by improving the intersection at the gateway to Johns Island at Main Road and U.S. Highway 17.

Peter Valiquette, project manager from LPA Associates, said traffic on Maybank Highway would increase. In 2010, 17,200 vehicles used the road on an average day. By 2035, that number likely will jump to 25,300. And if the state decides to extend Interstate 526 to Johns and James islands, about 27,8000 vehicles would travel on Maybank Highway each day.

Not all who attended were opposed to the larger widening alternative.

Mark Wilderding, who lives on Johns Island, said he supports it. It’s important to build such roads before development takes place, he said. It’s much more difficult to widen roads after an area has experienced explosive growth.

Charleston County officials said the analysis of project alternatives should be complete sometime this summer. There then will be a public hearing in the spring of 2013. Construction should begin in the fall of 2014.