The crusade to spare vegetation in the I-26 median between Summerville and I-95 isn’t just for tree-huggers and local motorists who enjoy the highway’s scenic aspect. First District Rep. Mark Sanford has joined the chorus.
And it isn’t just about beauty and cleaner air. It’s about the economy.
In a letter to Larry Hargett, chairman of the Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester Council of Governments, Mr. Sanford urged leaving the trees in the median. The Legislature recently approved a proviso that will require the state Department of Transportation to get the COG’s approval before proceeding with the controversial project.
In recommending restraint, Rep. Sanford drew on insights he derived as governor of South Carolina for two terms. Rep. Sanford called the stretch of road in question a gateway to the Charleston area for “an amazing number of tourists, potential retirees and business people.”
“I have long held the belief that our region’s quality of life and unique look and feel are part of the goose that lays the proverbial golden egg in our region’s economy,” he wrote. “I think it’s important that we maintain that point of competitive advantage.”
Mr. Sanford ably addressed the loudest argument against keeping the trees: that cutting them would prevent highway deaths.
Mr. Sanford wrote about a “host of parkways” in the Washington, D.C., area that have trees “surprisingly close to the roadways and yet are able to handle traffic counts that in many cases are heavier than those experienced on I-26.”
Rep. Sanford cited DOT’s willingness to retain trees between the lanes of traffic for part of U.S. 17 in the ACE Basin, saying that it provides a “different look and feel ... showcasing the amount of public and private investment that had gone into preserving lands in that area.” And he praised the efforts of Arthur Ravenel, who as a state senator led efforts to keep DOT from cutting roadside trees to begin with.
Indeed, Mr. Ravenel asserted in a recent letter to the editor that the DOT would be acting illegally by removing median trees.
The Department of Transportation was recently ranked seventh in the nation for performance and efficiency by the Reason Foundation. While the state’s highway fatality rate is 48th, urban congestion is 37th and rural interstate pavement condition 37th in the nation, the DOT was credited with doing more with less money.
Transportation Department officials could further distinguish themselves if they would heed public opinion on the I-26 trees, and find a way to reduce fatalities in the area without denuding the median.
Mr. Ravenel offered some good advice about the safety issue in his letter:
“As is abundantly obvious, all DOT has to do is just erect its fences along the tree line.”
And if that costs the DOT a little more than simply clear-cutting the median, it will be money well spent.