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County Council, June 12

Citizens speak out against proposed Johns Island Crossway
Public meeting next week
Warwick Jones

At a Finance Committee meeting last month, the proponents of a new expressway across Johns Island had their say. An expressway was needed to alleviate the traffic on the existing roads. Those working and living on Kiawah and Seabrook Island would be the main users. It also could be a toll road, they said.

Yesterday, the opponents had their say. Two residents of Johns Island spoke against the proposal and were aided by a spokesperson from the Coastal Conservation League (CCL). They cast doubts on the viability of a toll road, questioned the safety benefits and disputed whether it would do much to relieve traffic congestion.

Decline in the relationship
Mr. Bill Saunders spoke first and noted the great cooperation that existed between the developers of Kiawah and Seabrook Island in the 70’s when development began. The developers were conscious of the needs and concerns of the islanders and acted appropriately. At the same time, the residents supported the developments. But since the 80’s, that relationship progressively soured. He noted that the proposal for an expressway had been made before, but the idea had died. He was surprised, as were many islanders, that the idea was being resuscitated. He said the proposed road would do nothing for Johns Island. The problems on existing road needed to be addressed.

Proposed highway does not address safety issues
Ms. Megan Desrosiers of the CCL asked what problems were being addressed by the new road. It wasn’t safety. She noted the high incidence of accidents along Bohicket Road but particularly at the intersections of Route 17 and Main Road, and the intersection of Bohicket Road and Maybank Highways. The new expressway in its proposed location would do nothing to reduce the dangers at these intersections. She suggested that other alternatives be tried to increase safety before considering the new highway. She said moving traffic through the intersections should be addressed, or more thought given to traffic slowing such as more lights, speed limitation, or road strips.

Disruption from right of way acquisitions
Mr. Tom Legare suggested that there would be considerable disruption to families if the new highway were built. There has been a lot of construction on the island over recent years and although the exact location of the highway had not been decided, its location more or less midway between River and Bohicket Roads would undoubtedly lead to the acquisition and break up of many properties.

He noted that opposition to widening Main and Bohicket Roads, (to help traffic congestion) partly reflected the desire to retain the existing grand Live Oak trees. Maybe some of these need to be removed in the name of safety. He also added that the new expressway would also lead to the removal of many grand trees.

Viability of toll financing questioned
Mr. Legare also questioned the viability of tolls to pay for the road. The cost of the road was estimated by the proponents at $160 million. He said that at say $2 a journey, he doubted whether the road could be financed. Many of the folk traveling to Kiawah Seabrook were tradesmen, or low paid help. It was unlikely they would pay the $4 for traveling to and from the islands each day. They most probably would stay on the existing roads. He also cited examples of other toll roads in the US which had fallen short in raising revenue from tolls

Mr. Legare also noted that the new expressway would join Bohicket at roughly the same point that River Road joined. It was already a dangerous intersection. The addition of a 4 lane highway would hardly help.

How many people will use the road?
We share Mr. Legare’s view of the toll road economics. We estimate that the annual interest and amortization costs on borrowings of $160 million would be about $12 million a year, or roughly $1 million a month. We know little about the workings of a toll road, but presume there are other costs such as collection of tolls, and maintenance. We think these could boost the monthly cost to about $1.2 million, or roughly $40,000 a day.

Presently there are an estimated 20,000 trips a day to and from Kiawah and Seabrook Islands (10,000 to and 10,000 from). If the toll were $2 per car, then on face value, the toll would pay for the road. But how real is the 20,000 trips a day figure. If many chose to travel the old routes, which would be shorter but presumably faster, the economics of the toll road would be undermined. But more telling was the opinion that the time saved by using the new road as opposed to Bohicket Road was marginal.

Proponents could also argue that the population on Johns Island will grow and usage will climb beyond the 20,000 trips a day. We think population growth is likely but most it will be in areas closer to the City of Charleston and the new residents would not be frequent users of the new road.

See little enthusiasm on Council for the road
We wonder about the likelihood of the crossway being built. Only Council member Thurmond showed any interest in the project and it seems he has Seabrook and Kiawah folk in mind more than Johns Islanders. Council member Thurmond asked no question of the 3 speakers yesterday though we suspect he had many issues. Most questions were asked by Council members Darby, Pryor and Inabinett.

A public hearing will be held Thursday, June 19 for citizens to make their views known on the proposed road. It will be held at St Johns High School and begin at 6.30 pm