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This week, The City of Charleston considered imposing a six-month moratorium on housing development on Johns Island. Several members of City Council raised concerns and the proposal was deferred for further discussion, but it could come back for a vote later this month.
Traffic was the core rationale for this proposed stoppage. Traffic was the rationale for the moratorium levied on James Island last year too.
It’s true that traffic congestion impacts quality of life all over our region. Commuters suffer on Maybank Highway, Dorchester Road, Clements Ferry Road, Highway 61, I-26, I-526 and many other primary corridors nearly every weekday morning and evening.
Moratoriums hurt housing and our region has a huge housing attainability issue.
If you doubt it, ask anyone who’s recently relocated how much more they pay for housing in Charleston. Whether they moved from Columbia, Charlotte or Chicago, they’re probably paying a significantly higher share of their income on rent or a mortgage and that’s because our housing market is out of balance. The annual increase in new households in our region is consistently higher than the number of new housing units we’re permitting each year.
It’s a simple case of demand exceeding supply causing prices and rents to rise. We’ve been in that pattern for the better part of a decade and moratoriums make our predicament worse by delaying new homes and artificially inflating prices.
Need another reason why moratoriums don’t deserve a cheering section? How about the fact that moratoriums don’t solve traffic problems, they may actually make them worse. Moratoriums tend to push development outside municipal borders, exacerbating sprawl, stretching commutes and putting more cars on the roads for longer distances. They also signal to business investors that our market is a risky bet, and the threat of a moratorium often has the unintended consequence of pushing landowners to seek building permits sooner out of uncertainty.
The best medicine for traffic is infrastructure.
The good news is our region is already investing in infrastructure in a major way. Voters in Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston Counties have all approved a local option sales tax to fund infrastructure improvements. Those dedicated funds have resulted in 53 significant infrastructure projects being completed so far. After years of pressure from the business community, the state legislature last year approved a motor fuel user fee increase that will result in $640 million new dollars for road widenings and upgrades.
And the work is happening. Did you know that SCDOT has started a project to widen 526? Or that construction to add lanes on Clements Ferry Road is underway? Or that local officials already have a plan to build and fund the region’s first mass transit line?
All that is good news for folks stuck in traffic. But we have to keep up the pressure and while there are a lot of things that need to be done, the completion of the Mark Clark Expressway will have the biggest impact:
- Completion will improve traffic congestion for those who live and work in West Ashely, Johns Island, James Island and the sea islands
- It will give residents another evacuation route in the event of a hurricane
- Polling shows over 70% of residents in the region support the completion of the project
Our region does have a traffic problem, but we also have a housing problem.
We’ll be closer to solving both when we stop trying to reverse course with moratoriums and focus on funding and executing our infrastructure plans.