August 30, 2015

State clears early hurdle to remove trees in I-26 median


This image provided by SCDOT shows Interstate 26 in the affected area

This image provided by SCDOT shows Interstate 26 in the affected area

Most of the trees in the median of Interstate 26 between I-95 and Summerville may be chopped down in the near future. The state took another step towards that result this week.

A committee of the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments voted 4-2 Wednesday to allow the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) to take down the trees along 23 miles of that 30-mile stretch of I-26.

The trees are being blamed for a string of car fatal accidents along that stretch.

Summerville Mayor Bill Collins voted in favor of the proposal. He said he heads a city that loves trees. But he believes the median trees have to go because of the way the highway was designed.  “The slope coming off of the roadbed is dramatic,” Collins told South Carolina Radio Network. Collins says, if you leave the roadbed, you go down the sloper and are likely to hit a tree.

Collins added the majority of the trees in the median are scrub pines. He said, given a choice, he would rather save lives than scrub pines. Collins predicted the trees will have to come down eventually due to Lowcountry growth.  “We are going to end up needing three lanes each way between Summerville and St George as we connect (Interstate) 26 with 95″, says Collins. “For me it was a pretty simple decision.”

But State Rep Edward Southard (R-Moncks Corner) said the issue is not trees in the median, but driver behavior.  “We have documentation and records from all kind of agencies, federal, state, AAA, where the causes of most accidents are driver inattentivness or alcohol-related or driving too fast for conditions or no seatbelts and now….texting,” Southard said. He believes drivers must take more personal responsibility behind the wheel.

The recommedation to clear the I-26 median of the trees will likely go to the full Council of Governments in January. There will also be a public hearing before any final decision is made.

SCDOT originally announced in February that it planned to remove the trees out of concern for driver safety. However, the plans were put on hold after some in the region criticized the idea. Legislators agreed to include language in the state budget this year that allows the Council of Governments to veto the project, if it felt the concerns were valid.

Sheree Bernardi of Charleston affiliate WTMA filed this report

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