If you think traffic on Long Point Road is bad now, imagine what’d happen if a developer got his hands on Boone Hall Plantation.

Right now, 20,000 cars travel the oft-congested Mount Pleasant road every day. If the plantation’s roughly 600 acres were built out at typical subdivision density, it could add almost 2,000 houses. Each of which, planners say, generate 10 car trips a day.

So, double the traffic.

Fortunately, that’s never going to happen. Last year, Charleston County secured a conservation easement for Boone Hall — which basically ensures the land can never be developed.

The owners were paid $7 million, which is a lot of money. But they could have sold that property for north of $20 million. Now, no matter who owns the plantation it will remain in its current pristine condition forever.

The county bought the easement with Greenbelt money … and $2 million from the South Carolina Conservation Bank.

The same conservation bank that a few years ago some state lawmakers foolishly considered shutting down. Some griped that at the time the bank was funded in part through fees on property transfers. You know, taxes. Others complained that some of the easements did not come with public access to the conserved land.

Which is understandable but not always feasible. Sometimes these easements conserve private, working farms or homes. The motivation isn’t always to create another park but to prevent development.

Because if that land were turned into a neighborhood, the public wouldn’t have access, either — but all those new residents would have access to our roads.

Point is, those were lame arguments and fortunately the General Assembly and Gov. Henry McMaster saved the Conservation Bank. That was a smart move because it is one of the best investments this state has ever made.

Since 2002 when the bank was created, it has helped conserve more than 288,000 acres of South Carolina land — property that will never be disturbed by bulldozers or become home to an apartment complex.

“The Conservation Bank protects South Carolina’s magnificent natural, historical and cultural resources through a collaborative process — by negotiation and compensation, not regulation,” says state Sen. Chip Campsen. “This pro-property rights approach is key to its success.”

Campsen knows what he’s talking about. He is author of the legislation that created the bank and remains its most ardent defender. And he has ample proof the bank works: the equivalent of about 450 square miles of pristine, undeveloped land.

The latest annual report from the South Carolina Conservation Bank illustrates how much good a state operation with just three employees can do. In the past year it facilitated 20 new conservation easements from Boone Hall to Revolutionary War battle sites in the Midlands, mountains and hiking trails in the Upstate and a blackwater swamp along the Edisto River.

In the past decade, the bank has spent $73 million to perpetually conserve 165,000 acres around the state. That’s $442 an acre — a bargain by any measure.

By comparison, in that same time Florida spent $133 million to preserve 97,000 acres and North Carolina paid $150 million to protect 112,000 acres. So, three times the price per acre.

And neither of those much-larger states has conserved nearly as much land. Which is one reason the Coastal Conservation League has declared the Conservation Bank South Carolina’s most important land protection tool.

“In the final analysis the Conservation Bank protects much more than valuable resources. It preserves a sense of place for future generations in the face of a rapidly changing landscape,” Campsen says.

As South Carolina’s population grows, and the pressure to develop land increases, saving wide-open spaces and the state’s natural environment is only going to become more important. The General Assembly should have the good sense to not only keep the bank running but increase its funding. Because conservation easements are a sound investment.

The Boone Hall deal is a perfect example. Even folks who don’t particularly care about preserving the places that make South Carolina unique have to concede one point.

That $7 million is a bargain compared with the price of widening Long Point Road.