Hold the stump grinders, DOT
There are safety problems on I-26 between Summerville and I-95, as this newspaper has fully reported. But the solution shouldn’t require that the median be cleared of trees along the length of the interstate.
The idea of installing safety barriers is a good one. But does it really necessitate the removal of nearly 30 miles of trees by the S.C. Department of Transportation?
The DOT should re-examine the cost estimates cited in our Saturday report from Prentiss Findlay. In it, a DOT official was quoted as saying that removing all of the trees to install a single cable barrier in the median would cost $5 million. Meanwhile, leaving the trees and installing barriers along both sides the median would cost twice as much.
It doesn’t add up. Seems like removing the trees would be a major expense for this project. Wouldn’t it cost at least as much as installing a second barrier?
First District Transportation Commissioner Jim Rozier tells us that local residents have been making their opinions known since the news broke, and that virtually all are in strong opposition to the idea.
Mr. Rozier says he is preparing a list of questions for the DOT staff and commission at a Wednesday workshop.
“I do understand the safety issue,” Mr. Rozier says. But, he adds, “I don’t like the idea of cutting the trees down.”
He wants to know what alternatives are available to improve the safety of the roadway, while preserving its scenic aspects where possible.
It could be as simple as enforcing the existing 70 mile per hour speed limit, he says. “I’ve had been on that road driving the speed limit and had people blow by me like I’m standing still.”
Mr. Rozier’s close attention is warranted. Improving safety is important. But the DOT shouldn’t be allowed to undertake a simplistic solution that sacrifices one of the most scenic stretches of interstate highway in South Carolina.
And clearly the safety problems along I-26 aren’t simply related to the presence of trees in the median. There are additional design issues such as the slope of the median, and the lack of an interior shoulder.
“The trees aren’t magnets for cars,” as Mr. Rozier put it.
Driver error and inattention are problems that can be compounded by speeding. Maybe more enforcement is in order. Or perhaps the DOT should consider reducing the current 70 mph speed limit, pending other improvements.
Mentioned in our report as an element of the DOT’s clear-cutting plan is the possible widening of I-26.
Does the DOT envision that a future widening project will be accomplished within the existing median? Does the DOT favor ultimately eliminating the median in favor of new lanes and a concrete barrier separating them?
That might be appropriate for the urban interstate, where the highway corridor is sharply constrained by development, but it’s not the ideal design for a rural roadway — certainly not one as scenic as this portion of I-26. And it has its own safety problems related to the proximity of an unforgiving concrete barrier.
Maybe there are areas where trees should be removed in favor of a cable barrier. But removing them wholesale along the full stretch of interstate suggests that the DOT hasn’t given enough thought to other options.
Better that the DOT make safety accommodations as it has on I-95, through the Pee Dee region. Along that section of the interstate, portions of the median have been cleared, while trees remain elsewhere, in some instances separated from the roadway by guardrails.
Mr. Rozier should insist that the DOT put the brakes on this clear-cutting project.
There are too many unanswered questions, and mounting public opposition to the plan demands a detailed explanation from project engineers. And that should include more options for the commission’s consideration.