BALOG COLUMN: I-26 safety: Can't see the logic for the trees?
If we followed the advice of all those well-intentioned letter writers, we would drive at the posted speed limit on Interstate 26, pay strict attention to the road, and not drive while sleepy or otherwise impaired.
However, that's unlikely to happen. The state Department of Transportation wants to remove trees in the median of I-26 between Summerville and I-95 to improve safety. It's a beautiful stretch of road, but it's a deadly stretch as well.
DOT statistics show that from 2007 through 2011, there were 1,934 crashes resulting in 44 fatalities and 709 injuries between Summerville and I-95. Half of the crashes were run-off-the-road accidents, the DOT said. And that's where the proposed cable barriers would come into play.
Public sentiment appears to be overwhelmingly against cutting down the trees; a silent majority that favors installing the barriers has yet to emerge. Nobody is saying cable barriers are a scenic upgrade. But they're not there to be pretty, they're there to save lives. Because trees along the highway are great, except when you're about to run into one.
The Coastal Conservation League asked the governor to stop DOT from cutting down the trees.
State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, sponsored a joint resolution to stop DOT from removing the trees. Of course, Grooms is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, so his request might carry more weight than some others. He also is a 1st Congressional District candidate.
State officials say that keeping the trees will double the cost of the project, from $5 million to $10 million. Maybe there is an extra $5 million somewhere, though if there were, DOT probably would have found it by now to shore up its projected $30 million budget shortfall.
All the scenic beauty in the world won't help you in a crash. “We've been putting cable barriers in interstate medians for a little over 10 years,” Highway Commissioner Jim Rozier said. “During that decade, we've had over 23,000 cars hit those cables, and no deaths. That's astounding.”
Folks who are so quick to point out that people need to take more personal responsibility and rely less on the government might feel differently if they walk away from an accident because of the cable barriers.
And some trees might stay; Rozier has a meeting in Columbia next week about preserving the hardwoods where the highway passes through Four Holes Swamp. He's optimistic about his chances for success.
You could equate installing the cable barriers to buying protection against uninsured motorists. Because after all, isn't it the other driver who's always the problem anyway?
“We want to make sure that everybody is driving safely, whether the cable barriers are there or not,” said S.C. Highway Patrol Senior Trooper Bridget Wyant.
It's the contributing factors of speeding, distracted driving, drinking and driving, or driving without enough sleep that lead to crashes, Wyant said. “Do the right thing while nobody's looking, because that's what going to save your life,” Wyant said.
And if the barriers help improve the odds, so much the better.
Reach Melanie Balog at firstname.lastname@example.org