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Greenbelt Advisory Board August 17

What will be the impact of extending the Mark Clark Expressway?
Possibly not as much as we thought
Warwick Jones

The Mark Clark Community Impact Assessment Report, one way or another, has been in the public domain for a few weeks. The draft, presumably the final, was sent to members of the Greenbelt and Transportation Advisory Boards late last week. They assembled yesterday, together with about 30 members of the public, to hear a presentation by the consultant who prepared the report.

Overall, we were not impressed. As one colleague on the Greenbelt Advisory Board (GAB) commented, there was little that he read that he didn't know before. But to be fair to the consultant, there was little time for its preparation, and data - particularly relating to traffic flows - that it needed to do a thorough job was not available. We might also add that some other GAB colleagues thought it was an excellent report.

Not retained to assess the "pros and cons"
As the name implies, the study was designed to measure the impact on the community of extending the Mark Clark Expressway. Greenways Inc, the consultant retained by the County to advise it and the GAB on greenbelts, was retained in April to prepare the study. In turn, it contracted with EDAW to prepare the report. Mr. Chuck Flink of Greenways noted at the beginning of yesterday's meeting that the report was only an attempt to measure the impact of extending the Expressway. The Consultant was not retained to make a judgment on its merits or to weigh the "pros and cons". This made little difference to some members of the audience when it came to question time. They strongly expressed their views for and against the extension.

The report stretched to 29 pages of fine type, with about half of the report related to background and description. The other half was divided into "Community Impacts" and "Policy Options".

Population of Islands projected to increase by over 100%
Under "Community Impacts", the consultant drew on information provided by the Berkeley- Charleston -Dorchester Council of Governments (COG) forecast to provide a projection of population growth from 2003 to 2030. Assuming the Mark Clark extension is not built, population of Johns and Wadmalaw Islands was forecast to grow from 18,177 to 30,828. But if the extension were built, another 2,500 to 5,100 persons could be added to the forecast for 2030. Assuming the 5,100 projection, the consultant is forecasting a possible 100% increase in population over the 27 year period. Although the percentage increase is high, we were surprised at the low absolute number - 2,500 to 5,100 persons - because of the highway extension.

No chart showing location of Urban Growth Boundary
And at this point, we'd like to make a criticism. The report does not specifically state that most of this growth most likely will be within the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). If you connect all the dots, you will come to this conclusion. But it would be easy to assume that it will be spread across the whole of Johns and Wadmalaw Islands and have the impact on the rural community that many fear. But this is an incorrect assumption. The report states the supply of land for development is largely in the City and in the very north of the Island. And if this is the case, the policy of the County Council in creating the UGB will work as it was devised, and allow the major part of the Islands to retain their rural ambience.

Study Areas seems to have little relevance
The consultant, for the purposes of the report defines a Study Area of an approximately 40 sq miles over the northern part of Johns Island. This Study Area encompasses areas both sides of the UGB. But except for describing some impact on traffic on some roads, there seems little relevance of the report specifically to the Study Area.

Growth on Island low in absolute terms relative to Greater Charleston
To put the growth projected for Johns and Wadmalaw Islands into perspective, COGS is forecasting a population increase for the whole of the Greater Charleston area of 238,371 in the 26 year period. Growth projected for the Islands, would represent 5 - 8% of the total. The completion of the Mark Clark would not add to the population increase, but just shift a higher proportion locating to the Islands, according to the Consultant.

The Consultant also attempted to project employment growth. In 2003, 5,199 people were employed on the Islands. Employment is forecast to grow to 9,272 in 2030 and if the Mark Clark extension is built, another 800 to 1700 persons will be added to this total. This would represent an increase well over 100%.

Land supply more than adequate
The Consultant also states that the supply of zoned land can readily accommodate the foreseeable housing demand. Through 2030 and based on current zoning, it estimates that the potential housing supply for Johns Island is 36,458 housing units, "can readily accommodate" future housing. Of this total, it estimates that 30,677 housing units could be yielded from land within the City of Charleston. The balance, 5,781 housing units, would come from land in the County.

Again, the report does not explicitly say that the land within the City of Charleston is predominantly on the urban side of the UGB though we concede that this can be deduced from a number of other statements. Indeed, although the report makes much of the UGB, there is not a single diagram or map that shows its location.

We have no particular reason to dispute the availabilty of land for future housing projected by the consultant. But we think that the availability in the County may be higher than projected. Zoning does not allow for high densities of housing units in the County but there is a lot of land that still could be developed with low density housing. We therefore wonder whether the flow of population into the rural side of the UGB by 2030 could be higher than the figures projected.

Some impacts
Some of the direct impacts of the Mark Clark extension were:
1. It will directly displace relatively few homes and businesses.
2. Depending on the eventual alignment chosen, it will result in the loss of 40 to 64 acres of existing parkland
3. It will produce significant storm water runoff
4. Could substantially reshape traffic patterns. Traffic on
• Maybank Highway between the proposed Mark Clark extension and Riverland Drive, could fall to 21,000 vehicles a day from 40,000. But from River Road and the extension, could rise to 59,000 vehicles a day from 38,000 and from Bohicket and River Roads rise to 145,000 vehicles a day from 8000.
• Main Road, directly south of Savannah Highway could fall to 12,000 vehicles a day from 27,000.
• River Road between Main Road and Brownswood Road could fall to 2600 vehicles a day from 9600.
• Savannah Highway directly West of the Mark Clark, traffic could fall from 49,000 vehicles a day to 43,000 and East of the Mark Clark, from 43.000 to 36,000 a day
• The James Island Expressway from the proposed SC 61 Connector to Harborview Road could fall from about 76,000 to 59,000 vehicles a day.
5. Potential to interrupt or obscure views of wetlands
6. Improve access to each of the alternative hurricane evacuation routes.

Policy recommendations
We have no issue with the policy recommendations made by the Consultant though we are not sure that the County asked for them in its request. They are:

Reinforce the UGB. It remains the strongest regulatory tool for the managing urbanized growth. The UGB limits more intense land use activities to those areas with adequate infrastructure, while discouraging the conversion of rural and agricultural lands.

Promote gathering places. The Gathering Place concept found in the City of Charleston's Century V Plan can be used to create retail and mixed-use areas that enhance the character of Johns Island as it grows. Also designated Gathering Places delineate appropriate sites for more intense growth, thereby preventing sprawling urban corridors.

The community should actively participate in a land use and design study that proceeds the preliminary engineering phase of the Maybank Highway. The Highway corridor will be the primary focus for much of Johns Island's growth in the years ahead. It also will support three gathering places, and act as the primary gateway into the community.

Public divided
A number of comments were made at the conclusion of the presentation, most of which really were airing of opinions rather questions of the Consultant. A spokesperson from the Coastal Conservation League, which has publicly opposed the extension, noted the strange order of the process. There had been inadequate traffic studies relating to the project, yet an application had been submitted and approved by the State Infrastructure Bank for over $400 million for finance. And here we are looking, for the first time, to a community impact assessment. A GAB member who applauded the report, also expressed the concern that the amount allocated by the SIB to the project. The project's necessity was very much debated and was set against a background of shortage of funds for road building in the State.

Some members of the public expressed concern as to what could happen to Johns Island if the expressway were built but one in particular, from West Ashley said that any loss had to be set against the potential gain. He was referring to the need to alleviate traffic in the West Ashley area and seemed to think that the population increase projected by the consultant because of the extension was a price worth paying.

Warwick Jones is a member of the GAB