CHARLESTON - A decades-old proposal for a Johns Island parkway that proponents said would improve traffic flow and lead to safer travel was put on a back burner Thursday at a meeting of the Charleston County Council's Finance Committee.
Although it still requires approval from the full council, which is scheduled for Tuesday, the parkway idea appears to have stalled. The committee voted 8-0 to seek $5 million for various safety improvements on island roads instead of seeking $60 million to build the parkway. All council members sit on the Finance Committee.
Councilman Paul Thurmond left the meeting before the vote.
The final vote reflected the position of Councilman Dickie Schweers, who from the outset of a long discussion on the issue argued in favor of seeking the $5 million for improvements to island intersections. "I see very few congested roads on Johns Island," Schweers said. "You don't see significant congestion."
In contrast, Thurmond favored what he described as a more aggressive approach to managing projected traffic woes in the next two decades.
Thurmond said that the potential negative effect of the cross-island parkway in terms of homes and businesses having to relocate was being exaggerated by opponents. Council has an obligation to ensure safe passage for island motorists, he said.
Speaking to Schweers, Thurmond said, "Is it your opinion that we don't do anything until it is absolutely awful?" Schweers responded, "No it is not."
The Johns Island road safety improvements approved Thursday include widening Main Road from Brownswood Road to Maybank Highway and adding turn lanes to several roads. Improvements also include the possibility of installing rumble strips and guardrails and reducing the speed limit from 45 mph to 40 mph where warranted.
Deputy Administrator Kurt Taylor said he brought the Johns Island road issue to County Council because council needed to decide if it wanted to seek federal stimulus funds by an Aug. 23 deadline.
Council had commissioned a $249,969 study of the parkway project, known as the Sea Islands Greenway. If it were to be built, the parkway would run from Maybank Highway and River Road to the Betsy Kerrison Parkway.
Much of the discussion among council members centered on projections of island road congestion. Bohicket Road and Main Road now get high marks for traffic flow, but in 20 years are projected to get a failing grade. "These projections are real. We have to be proactive," said Councilman Elliott Summey.
Other council members expressed concern that the property owners who could be affected by the Greenway were not notified by mail of the possibility that the parkway would be built.
County staff responded that if the $60 million Greenway project were to proceed, the next step would be a more detailed study with extensive public input.