Goose Creek looked a lot different when Michael Heitzler was first elected mayor in 1978.
Then, the town of 10,000 souls covered only about a half-dozen subdivisions and some trailer parks.
In most places, it wasn’t hard to count the cars passing by.
But Heitzler had a feeling Goose Creek wouldn’t always be so sleepy — it was, he quickly realized, going places.
“We had a positive attitude,” he says.
And that attitude has paid off. Goose Creek now has about 40,000 residents. Some national magazines rank it — along with several Lowcountry cities — among the best places to live in the country.
So the secret is out.
Today Goose Creek is growing east, west and north. It can’t grow south because it’s already touching North Charleston and Hanahan — and it’s about to run smack into Summerville to the west.
It’s getting crowded out there.
Heitzler welcomes growth but says “I just hope we can pace it.”
The trick is to plan for it, and the town has done a good job of that. It has the water and sewer lines, and it’s building a new million-gallon water tower.
The town recently started work on two new fire stations and will build two more after that to provide coverage to all these new developments. It also will add another police substation.
The only other thing Goose Creek really needs is the roads to handle all the traffic that’s coming — for instance, an overpass at Highways 52 and 176 is sorely needed.
Trouble is, the state can’t keep up the roads it has now, much less build new ones.
The explosive growth in Berkeley County is happening all over the metropolitan area. More people are moving in every day and, as much as some folks would like it, we can’t legally turn them away.
Fact is, it’s getting denser everywhere. Downtown Charleston residents are fighting the city and the Beach Co. over plans for 400 units at Colonial Lake over that very issue.
Summerville says welcome to its world. The Goose Creek development at Carnes Crossroads, as well as two others going up nearby, will dump a Mount Pleasant-size population at the town’s doorstep.
So now Summerville is a town of almost 50,000 people dealing with the density of a city twice its size. And that’s an issue.
All those people moving in won’t technically live in Summerville, and so they won’t pay taxes to the town. But, as Mayor Bill Collins says, no one pays attention to jurisdiction lines except “politicians and school boards.”
“They will impact us heavily,” Collins says, “and we’re doing the best we can to compensate for it.”
Again, the biggest problem is going to be roads. Summerville deals with Charleston-like traffic every day, so imagine another 50,000 commuters living within a few miles.
The new Interstate 26 exit at mile marker 197 is going to help, especially with Summerville extending a road up to it that will allow folks to bypass Main Street and the already overburdened exit 199.
But it’s not nearly enough.
Traffic is going to become as big a problem for Goose Creek and Summerville as it is in Charleston and Mount Pleasant. Some would say it already is.
Heitzler has been leaning on state officials lately, trying to get them to get the Department of Transportation moving.
“They are going to have to step it up,” he says.
Berkeley County is using a 1 percent sales tax to keep up with road needs. Heitzler says if the state is going to sit around being dysfunctional, South Carolina cities should have the ability to tax gasoline for road projects. The mayor argues that the people using the roads should be the ones paying for them.
He’s absolutely right.
Collins says we need to work on transportation as a region. Perhaps that means much better bus transportation or even some sort of big-ticket commuter rail. Those are the kinds of items that might require a regional transportation fee — especially if the state doesn’t get off its duff.
“We’re all in the same boat and we have to find a way to do it that’s palatable,” Collins says. “But it has to be done.”
Yes, it does. Especially since the governor and the General Assembly can’t seem to find common ground on a plan for fixing roads.
And the longer they delay, the more we pay.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com.