Second-graders collaborate with author on book

Alexander Tallarico, 7, looks over the book "The Mystery of the 13th Coin" at Teach in Mount Pleasant. His brother, Nicholas, was one of the students who participated in the creation of the book.

For more than 40 years, somebody has been bound and determined to slap a whole lot of pavement on Johns Island.

And it ain't happened yet.

County Council has rescinded its earlier vote against completing Interstate 526 between West Ashley and the James Island connector, reviving a corpse that Dr. Frankenstein probably would have given up on by now.

Consider this:

--In the early 1970s, council voted to build this road, more than six years after it was first proposed.

--In 1997, someone revived the on-again, off-again project as a toll road between West Ashley and Johns Island.

--Two years later, the state Department of Transportation announced plans to secure federal money for the project.

--And in 2002, the Charleston Area Transportation Study Committee put the Mark Clark Expressway back on the fast track, providing there would be a preservation of green space on Johns Island.

No wonder people around here love history so much. They re-live it every day.

Dreading bridges

There is one other thing that hasn't changed over the years: Most Johns Island residents don't want the road.

Ten years ago, in fact, they talked about forming their own town to fight the road. Think about it: They were willing to incorporate to remain rural. Talk about cutting off your nose. Or hating a road.

These feelings have lingered longer than there has been a Mark Clark. Some locals remember their parents dreading the day when the old wooden bridges were replaced with steel spans, and again when the drawbridges were replaced with hurricane-evacuation bridges.

They were right to dread it. With each road improvement, more people have moved in. Now some people want a referendum. They might show a majority of Charleston County voters want the road -- but probably not a majority of Johns Islanders.

Groundhog day

Councilman Elliott Summey says, not unsympathetically, that there's a lot of effort from people to save a place that really no longer exists.

"There are 19,000 houses already plotted and scheduled to be built (on Johns Island), most of them in the city of Charleston. If you think they are going to stop that, well, they aren't. They've got to accept the fact that the people are coming," he says.

He's absolutely right. But even with that much planned development, Johns Island doesn't have to become Mount Pleasant.

As this road goes back to the drawing board again, people need to consider what's at stake. For a lot of us, finishing the Mark Clark would be great -- save a lot of time, a lot of gas. But is a little convenience worth risking such a green place in the county? And if it is, are the politicians willing to compromise by putting real restrictions on development?

This could go either way. The County Council vote this week wasn't so much an endorsement of the road as a mad scramble to get out of default. It was the right move, but now they need to put this to bed because Johns Island is in limbo.

But it's been 40-odd years and counting, so what's a few more months?