State Sen. Larry Grooms is sponsoring a joint resolution that could prohibit removal of trees in the Interstate 26 median from Summerville to Interstate 95.
If approved, the measure would stop the state Department of Transportation from moving forward with its tree-cutting project until the General Assembly Joint Transportation Review Committee has studied the planned action and commented on it.
“I really want to see why they are doing it, and if there is an alternative,” said Grooms, R-Bonneau.
He said the measure may come to a vote in the Senate on Thursday. First, it must gain approval of the Senate Transportation Committee, of which Grooms is chairman.
After a Senate vote, it would go to the House for consideration.
DOT spokesman Pete Poore said a copy of the joint resolution was forwarded Tuesday to Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge.
The department would probably not offer any comment on it until it is introduced in the Senate, he said.
On Thursday, the Coastal Conservation League asked Gov. Nikki Haley to prevent the DOT from cutting down the trees in the 30 miles of median.
In a statement through her spokesman, Haley noted that the DOT thoroughly weighed the safety and environmental issues and determined that safety of drivers had to remain their highest priority.
The $5 million DOT project aims to reduce fatalities and severe-injury crashes.
It is part of a plan to widen the interstate to three lanes in each direction. Cable guardrail would be installed in the middle of the median after the trees are removed.
The DOT is in the process of preparing a contract for the I-26 project, which will require an environmental permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. The work, which could begin in the fall, will take about a year to complete unless it is delayed, officials said.
Grooms said he favored putting cable guardrail on both sides of the highway between the woods and the highway shoulder.
The DOT said that option is too expensive and not as effective from a safety standpoint.
It would double the project cost, DOT said.
Grooms said he is not saying that the trees cannot be cut, but he wants more of an explanation of the project before it proceeds.
In addition to Grooms, Highway Commissioner Jim Rozier of Moncks Corner has said he supported leaving the wetlands and hardwoods in the median, but removing pines.
The interstate passes over Four Holes Swamp, he noted.
The league has suggested alternatives to tree-cutting, such as rumble strips on the paved shoulder, selectively clearing trees within 30 feet of the roadway, reducing the speed limit from 70 mph to 60 mph or 65 mph, and increasing law enforcement.
The trees in the median are primarily pines, with some hardwoods, DOT said.
I-26 in the project area has an annual average daily traffic count of 32,433 vehicles. From 2007 through 2011, 1,934 crashes resulting in 44 fatalities and 709 injuries occurred in the stretch of interstate. Half of the crashes were run-off-the-road accidents, the DOT said.
The crash causes were primarily distracted drivers and drivers who fell asleep.
Other factors were DUI, speeding, driving too fast for conditions, tire failure, improper lane change and debris in the roadway, the DOT reported.
When the project is finished, the zone where drivers can recover from running off the road into the median will grow from 25 feet wide to 46 feet wide on both sides of the interstate, the DOT said.
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