When leaving Charleston on I-26 North, I always look forward to the drive between Summerville and I-95. There the more developed urban environment to the south is left behind, and the road quickly enters lovely, forested Southern countryside.

I recently learned, however, that the state DOT has decided to cut down and remove the thousands of trees that grace the wide median strip in this 30-mile-long stretch.

Once the lush, green woodland is clear-cut, a (predictably ugly) cable-type guardrail will be erected along the center line of the denuded land.

The DOT claims that its planned wholesale destruction of hundreds of acres of mature forest is justified in the interest of safety.

The agency also admits, however, that the majority of crashes in this area are caused not by the highway’s proximity to the woodland but by drivers who are distracted (i.e. texting or using cellphones), sleeping, speeding or driving too fast for conditions.

Moreover, the DOT would like to remove the trees now so that they won’t be an issue when it seeks to widen the interstate in the near future.

And while eliminating the median’s trees may enhance safety in some crash circumstances, on balance, clear-cutting may actually make the roadway less safe.

Without the forest screen, nighttime drivers will be distracted by the headlights of cars traveling in the opposite direction, and won’t always be able to use high beams. Nor will drivers be sheltered as they are now from dangerous cross-winds.

Shouldn’t we, the people who live here and use this scenic roadway regularly, at least have a chance to voice our opinions at a public hearing regarding the DOT’s plan?

Isn’t it possible that the creative ideas discussed at a hearing could lead to a better plan, one that would enhance safety without unduly sacrificing this area’s natural beauty?

Couldn’t the taxpayers’ $5 million be better spent on stepped-up enforcement of traffic safety laws instead of transforming a pristine green corridor into a barren “DMZ”?

Please contact your state representative if you feel as I do that the DOT’s current, misguided plan for I-26 should be reconsidered.

Dave Engle

Terns Nest Road