The Farm to Market Road, the Cross Island Expressway, the Johns Island Greenway; call it what you will, the plan to build a road across southern Johns Island connecting River Rd to Betsy Kerrison has been discussed on the islands for more than 40 years. But as the idea becomes more tenable, the protests and pleadings for the road are becoming more and more heated.
While Charleston County has voted to do a study on a new roadway so that the potential route of the road as well as the costs involved will finally be put on paper, other island residents have suggested the possibility of simply widening Bohicket and Main road to avoid cutting a new road on the island; an idea which many see as a potential gateway to even more development on the island. However, the safety of the current roads has consistently been called into question and as more and more people move onto the sea islands, the need for some solution to the growing traffic, as well as the increase in accidents, has many saying that its now an issue of life or death.
The improvements – whether its widening the roads, building the Greenway, improving existing roads or a combination of all three – will need the support not only of the Johns Islanders, but the residents of Kiawah and Seabrook, as well. And before Seabrookers go to the voting poles on November 3, it would be in their best interest to know how their candidates stand on the roads.
“The carnage has gone on long enough,” says incumbent candidate Robert Savin. “We need the Cross Island Road with green space on each side to preserve the island beauty and ecology and to provide safe transport for residents from all four islands.”
“Our present roads are scenic but not safe,” said Mayoral candidate, incumbent William Holtz. “The State, as well as the County and City of Charleston, have to have a plan to handle the population growth coming to Johns Island, which is expected to double in 10 years, and to improve the condition of the present roads. The State is working on a plan to extend 526 with an exit on Johns Island and the County is conducting a study on all of the roads on Johns Island. Without a plan, there is no chance we can compete for the limited financing available. Working with the Town Council, I hope to continue to endorse a Cross Island road that ties into the 526 extension . This road should allow bicycles and pedestrians to travel along designated paths without risking their lives. In addition, we will support improvement for the Main and Rt. 17 intersection as that is our questionable evacuation route. Whatever plan emerges we will work with the other municipal governments and communities to improve the road situation.”
Incumbent Jerry Cummin notes that, “Part of my job while serving on the Town of Seabrook Island’s External Affairs Commission (2004-2008) was to monitor road planning developments effecting Johns Island. One thing was clear: traffic moves fast, road improvements do not. Bohicket and River Roads are some of the most dangerous rural roads in the Nation. Road safety improvements start with action by the County Council.
“ Councilman Paul Thurmond has announced that he will not run for re-election when his term expires in 2010. He has been the leading supporter in the effort to bring a new, safe road to Johns Island. I would prefer the Sea Island Greenway to destroying a lot of Grand Oaks in order to widen Bohicket Road to four lanes, but if that is the only option, I will support it. Once the study is published, it is important for all of us to communicate our wishes to County Council. Paul Thurmond may still be there to help but he won’t be there after the end of 2010. County Council pays attention to email. Their email addresses can be found here: http://www.charlestoncounty.org/departments/Council/contacts.htm.”
The issue of road safety is also of great concern to candidate Sam Reed, who chairs the Seabrook Roads Committee comprised of nine Seabrook Island residents. Reed notes that their Committee has met several times and has been working with a similar group on Kiawah. “Our position is that our roads to this part of Charleston County are terribly unsafe,” says Reed. “It is more than a Seabrook-Kiawah problem, since over 90 % of the travelers at the Freshfields roundabout are not residents of Seabrook or Kiawah. This issue MUST be dealt with before others are maimed or killed on Bohicket, Main, and River Roads. In order to preserve the beautiful and environmentally positive canopy on Bohicket, it seems that a new greenway (with possible bicycle and jogging lanes) would be preferred. The adjoining ground could be put in a limited access easement, so that business development could not occur. I have also been told that a new greenway would be less expensive and less disruptive to property owners than a widening project on Bohicket and River Roads. In any event, I think we owe it to those using these roads that safety should be foremost, and that a solution should and can be found. I will continue to work on this issue until a solution is found.”
“I, too, am disappointed with the condition of the roads (River Road and Bohicket Rd.) that lead to Seabrook Island,” says candidate Henry Hobson. “We certainly need an upgrade on both of these dangerous roads since they are both highways of potential death and destruction to anyone travelling them. Regrettably there are those residents of Johns Island who feel that any further development, whether road building or road maintenance, will lead to further gentrification of the island and the potential destruction of its rural nature. I do not agree with this position. We need to provide for the safety and security of travelers to and from our island. The possible solution of the Johns Island Greenway has emerged as a limited access highway which would preserve existing development and not facilitating further residential development along its path. It would be free of the dangerous proximity of large oak trees that threaten travelers on Bohicket and River Roads. What we need to understand now is how much it would cost.”
Finally, candidate Terrence Ahearn remarks that he feels passionately about the need for safe roads on the island. “Safetyis the main issue with the roads situation. Some people complain that a new road would be for the ‘rich people on Kiawah and Seabrook’, but most of the people that drive out to the islands are guests, renters, construction workers, Freshfields employees, and they’re in just as much danger on the roads as anyone. I would prefer to see a new road instead of four lane-ing Main and Bohicket, but if that plan doesn’ t work, I would be for widening the roads in an environmentally friendly manner and doing what we can to protect the grand oaks.”
Editor’s note: Candidate Frank Farfone was unavailable to give his stance on the roads situation before our deadline date.