Highway Commissioner Jim Rozier’s quest to save the trees in the Interstate 26 median between Summerville and Interstate 95 fell on deaf ears today at a meeting of the state Department of Transportation board, he said.
“I didn’t win the battle. I certainly didn’t have the votes to change it,” Rozier said.
The $5 million DOT project aims to reduce fatalities and severe injury crashes. It is part of a plan to widen the interstate to three lanes in each direction. Cable guardrail will be installed in the middle of the median after the trees are removed.
“The board as a whole had no problem with the project. It’s ready to move forward,” said DOT spokesman Pete Poore.
The DOT is in the process of preparing a contract for the I-26 project, which will require an environmental permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Trees in the median will be removed for nearly 30 miles of the interstate. The work, which could begin in the fall, will take about a year to complete, officials said.
Rozier, a Moncks Corner resident, said he had heard from many who opposed the plan to level the trees, which are primarily pines with some hardwoods. He represent residents of Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester and Beaufort counties.
The interstate widening from Summerville to I-95 is a good idea, he said.
“That certainly needs to be done,” he said.
Opponents of the tree removal say speeding, driving under the influence and inattentive driving because of texting cause fatalities, but the trees are not at fault.
“Cutting out some of the larger trees closer to the roadside may help somewhat, but speed kills,” said Jerry Tupacz of Georgetown.
Leaving the trees in place doubles the cost of making the stretch of interstate safer, the DOT said, because more rigid, stronger cable guardrail that is much more expensive would be needed on both sides of the wooded median. The slope of I-26, the narrow shoulders and short distance to the trees are problems that require use of the more costly cable guardrail, the DOT said.
In 2010, an analysis conducted by The Post and Courier determined that the stretch of interstate around Ridgeville had claimed more lives than any other part of the highway. Of the nine fatal wrecks in 2009 between Summerville and I-95, seven involved impacts with trees or roll-overs into ditches, records showed.
When the trees are cut down, the zone where drivers can recover from running off the road will grow from 25 feet wide to 46 feet wide on both sides of the interstate median.
The cable barrier will reduce fatalities, the DOT said.
From 2007 through 2011, 1,934 crashes resulting in 44 fatalities and 709 injuries occurred in the stretch of interstate. Half of the crashes were run-off-the-road wrecks, the DOT said.
Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711.
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