Plans for 3 hotly debated projects develop on an evolving Johns Island

Thomas Legare Jr. of Legare Farms wants Johns Island to maintain its rural character. His family has been farming on the island since 1725. Legare said he's against the Mark Clark Expressway extension and an island toll road project "in any way, shape or

JOHNS ISLAND — Steve Olson, who lives just off Maybank Highway on Johns Island, says the traffic near his home is so bad at rush hour that he avoids leaving his neighborhood.

He wants new roads built on the island to help with traffic now and to prepare for more development, which he thinks is inevitable.

Carmen Rivers, on the other hand, whose husband's family has lived on Johns Island for more than 100 years, says that before building new roads that encourage further development, city and county leaders should improve existing roads and reduce speed limits.

"Johns Island is a special place, and we should preserve what's left," she said.

Olson and Rivers are on opposite sides of a discussion about traffic problems on Johns Island and the best way to solve them.

At the center of that discussion sit three large potential road projects. The future of those projects isn't clear, but here's where they stand:

I-526 completion

A proposal to complete Interstate 526 from West Ashley to Johns Island sits in the hands of the South Carolina Department of Transportation. The department finished its second round of public meetings on project alternatives Thursday with a meeting at St. Johns High School on Johns Island.

There are 22 alternatives, project manager David Kinard said. Alternatives include 17 different routes for the proposed extension. They also include improving existing roads and transportation management instead of completing I-526.

The transportation department will narrow its list of alternatives, Kinard said, then hold another round of meetings in the spring. Following the third round of meetings, the department will select a preferred alternative. It will present that alternative at a public hearing in the fall of 2009.

Maybank Highway

Kurt Taylor, director of Charleston County's transportation half-cent sales tax program, said a consulting group is looking for a compromise between two competing plans for the future of Maybank Highway. Both plans aim to do something about traffic on Maybank, which backs up from River Road to the Stono River during rush hour.

One plan, which was proposed by the county in response to a request from the city of Charleston in 2002, includes widening the two-lane road to four lanes with a wide, planted median.

But city officials, since earlier this year, are advocating a "pitchfork" plan, which would instead create a network of streets that disperse traffic. The plan lays the groundwork to develop village-like hubs along the highway that include homes and shops.

Taylor said the Urban Land Institute is reviewing both plans and will release its ideas for compromise to county staffers in December. County staff members likely will make a presentation on the compromise proposal to County Council in early January, Taylor said.

Sea Islands Parkway toll road

A Charleston County Council committee voted down a plan to build a toll road across Johns Island roughly from the intersection of Maybank Highway and River Road to the Betsy Kerrison Parkway. It also voted down a plan to form a committee to study the toll road and other Johns Island traffic problems after Charleston Mayor Joe Riley asked members to hold off on that proposal.

Riley said Wednesday that he has asked a group to meet with him about the proposed road. He wants the group to find a way to move toward a consensus on the project.

Riley said the group will include the mayors of Kiawah and Seabrook islands, County Council members, some county staffers, representatives from Johns and Wadmalaw islands, and Paul Roberts, chairman of the Kiawah Island Community Association and founding director of the Center for Transportation Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He said he thinks the group will meet within the next few weeks.

Riley said another road across Johns Island is needed to alleviate traffic problems on River and Bohicket roads, but that the toll road proposal doesn't have much support on Johns Island. He said that widening River Road or Bohicket Roads is not a viable option because that would require cutting down many stately live oak trees.

Olson, who is a real estate agent, said he hopes that Maybank Highway is widened. "It really needs to be thoroughfare," he said. And he thinks the completion of the Mark Clark Expressway down to Johns Island is needed. If county and city officials decide against widening Maybank Highway, he said, they should build the toll road. Continued growth and development on Johns Island are inevitable, he said, and the area needs some traffic relief.

Rivers supports the city of Charleston's "pitchfork" plan for Maybank Highway, but is opposed to the toll road and the Mark Clark completion. "These things are going to open this island to wilder development than is happening now," she said.