As a state senator, Arthur Ravenel gained legislative approval for a bill to limit the state Department of Transportation’s removal of vegetation along roadways. But as the DOT moves to clear-cut the median on I-26, agency officials contend it doesn’t apply.
Mr. Ravenel’s bill related to mowing in the median, while the DOT will be cutting trees, a DOT spokesman explains. And we thought trees were vegetation.
So does Mr. Ravenel, who observes that much of the vegetation along the road, if allowed to flourish, eventually becomes seedlings and then trees.
“What a beautiful drive that is from I-95 to Summerville,” he says. Well, maybe not for long.
And in any event, the DOT explains, the median on I-26 is eventually slated to be paved to widen the interstate.
All of which is to say that scenic roadways are largely of secondary interest to the DOT. Clearly, the agency views trees as an impediment to paving and a potential hazard to motorists, not as a scenic asset for the state.
That’s too bad, particularly on roads like I-26, where for 30 miles between Summerville and I-95, the generous growth of trees in the median gives motorists a break from concrete and, at night, from the lights of oncoming traffic.
The DOT reconfirmed its plans to cut down the trees on Thursday, citing safety concerns and the added expense of doing anything more complicated than clear-cutting and installing a cable barrier in the median.
Local highway commissioner Jim Rozier sought reconsideration after he received more than 100 calls on the matter — virtually all in favor of keeping the trees.
Although plans have yet to be firmed up, the DOT’s eventual widening in the median will probably include a concrete barrier dividing the roadway.
As a DOT official explained, “It’s cheaper. You don’t have to buy any right of way when you already own the median.”
Unless, of course, you want to retain some of the scenic aspects for which the Lowcountry and the state are known.
Roads function as more than simply conduits for goods and services. Moreover, tourism is a major industry in South Carolina, and scenic highways — even scenic interstates — contribute to that aspect of the state, and to its economy. And to the daily sense of relief for local commuters.
Mr. Ravenel’s legislative effort recognized the importance of leaving something of the natural landscape within highway corridors.
The DOT could learn from his example, and modify its plans so that trees can be accommodated where possible while providing for the safety of motorists by the selective installation of roadside barriers.
The most obtuse solution may be easiest, but it isn’t necessarily the best. In this instance, the DOT has demonstrated a failure of creativity for solving a road safety problem. It’s the sort of one-dimensional decision-making that erodes agency support among much of the motoring public.
Mr. Ravenel’s solution for I-26? Leave the trees and enforce the speed limit. Now that’s a cost-effective plan.
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