HICKS COLUMN: Say goodbye to your pretty trees
A lot of folks are not real happy that the state is going to cut down all those trees on I-26.
It's going to be ugly. It's going to be generic. And it's going to make it a lot harder for the deer to hide before they jump out in front of our cars.
But there's one other thing for sure here — it's not Jim Rozier's fault.
The Lowcountry representative on the state Department of Transportation Commission tried to stop the I-26 tree massacre. But, alas, he was not successful.
“I hate it. I fought the good fight,” says Rozier, the Highway Commissioner and former Berkeley County supervisor.
Before Thursday's meeting, Rozier was pretty sure he didn't have the votes to stop the DOT's plan to cut down all the trees in the median between Summerville and Interstate 95.
And after state bureaucrats finished their presentation, he was pretty sure he could not have gotten a second to his emotion. The state guys had done their homework.
The carrot and the stick
The state plans to replace our trees with some ugly cables, the likes of which they've been stringing up along highways for the past decade.
In that 10 years, 23,000 cars have hit the cables — which works out to about 4.5 cars per mile of cable on South Carolina highways.
You know what this means, besides the fact that we have some really rotten drivers in this state?
“No question, the cables save lives,” Rozier says.
Even had Rozier successfully argued against safety, the DOT is now dangling a carrot that will no doubt silence many of its critics: It has to take out the trees to widen I-26 to three lanes in each direction.
Between the lives saved and the additional highway lanes, Rozier knew there was no way to stop this train.
And in the end, he couldn't. So say goodbye to the trees.
The boredom zone?
This is not going to be a popular decision.
Rozier got 130 calls on the DOT's plan himself. Only three of those people liked the idea — and one of those was a guy who wanted the contract to cut down all the trees.
There's a reason people had such a gut reaction to this idea. Fact is, that's a pretty stretch of highway. And it won't be anymore. It's going to look like any other patch of interstate in any state.
And that stinks.
Rozier says he can't do anything, except explain it to folks and hope they understand.
Of course, he can tell them that stretch of I-26 isn't called the death zone for nothing. In a recent four-year span, there were nearly 2,000 crashes in that 30 miles. In those accidents, more than 700 people were injured, and 44 died. Half those crashes involved running off the road and, presumably, into those trees.
Funny thing is, the DOT says most of those wrecks aren't the result of drunk driving or even texting behind the wheel. Most of the accidents, it seems, are the result of people falling asleep or just not concentrating while driving.
Maybe that had something to do with the nice scenery.
Well, we won't have that problem anymore.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com