I have been following the proposed I-26 tree removal with interest. I had the opportunity, along with other elected officials, to discuss this issue with the secretary of the state Department of Transportation Robert Onge Jr. on March 21. Also present was Commissioner Jim Rozier, the DOT traffic engineer and federal highway administrative officials.
After DOT’s presentation to justify removing trees and installing cable barriers, we were given an opportunity to ask questions. Let me say now that I was against this proposal before the presentation and did not hear anything during it to sway my position.
Following are some of the reasons why:
1) SCDOT refers to this activity as mere tree removal, but in actuality, it would be more of a clearing and grubbing operation.
The stumps would have to be removed to accommodate the median mowing, which would also require closing the inside lanes during this activity. Lane closures in interstate highways are only allowed at night, thus driving the costs up.
2) I asked why there were more accidents toward the median and not the right side of the highway. Per the design of highways, the vehicle should be just as apt to go off the right side as the left, and there are plenty of trees on the right side that are not under scrutiny.
3) We were presented a chart depicting distractions, speeding, driving under influence and driving too fast for conditions as the major causes of accidents. These are all driver errors and the removal of the trees will not change this fact at all. The obvious question is why there are not more police officers patrolling the stretch between I-95 and exit 199, Summerville.
I believe a blue light is still the best deterrent to speeding. My recommendation is two officers assigned to eight- hour shifts each for three months.
See if serious or deadly accidents are significantly reduced.
I was told that the SCDOT does not enforce traffic laws; this is a S.C. Highway Patrol function.
It’s unacceptable for two state agencies to fail to communicate in an effort to minimize driver error on our interstate highways.
4) I furnished information stating that more pedestrians are killed each year on South Carolina’s secondary roads than there are deaths on our interstates. Also about 85 percent of all crashes do not occur on interstates. Speeding and not wearing seat belts are still the major causes of highway deaths.
5) A SCDOT report for July 1, 2011,- June 30, 2012, listed Highway 402 in Berkeley County as having the second most severe safety needs statewide. The panel didn’t appear to be aware of this report when furnished the information.
I appreciate the time DOT allowed for the discussion. I did learn that the $5 million is a federal highway safety grant which can’t be used for anything else.
I asked the officials to consider selective clearing, at the least leaving the larger oak trees. They didn’t appear receptive to that idea either. It was stated that the project would not begin for about a year, giving opponents time to voice their concerns.
I respectfully request that SCDOT reconsider its position and not have another project in Berkeley County like the Oakley Road at U.S. 52 intersection improvements.
Elected officials are expected to know the reasons and justifications for projects like these; however, I can’t explain to anyone the reasoning for either of the two.
Rep. Eddy Southard
House District 100
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