So far, the state Department of Transportation has been unwilling to heed the many local residents who oppose their ill-considered plan to remove trees along 30 miles of median on I-26. Nor has the DOT deferred to 1st District DOT Commissioner Jim Rozier, who objects to the plan. It would replace the trees with a cable barrier at a cost of $5 million.
But the DOT should listen to Rep. Eddy Southard’s solid case against the proposal. The Berkeley Republican, who represents a portion of the area adjacent to the highway, logically states the general opposition to the DOT plan in a letter to the editor on today’s page.
Surprisingly, one solid objection to the proposal was actually provided by DOT officials who met with Rep. Southard and other local leaders last month.
“We were presented a chart depicting distractions, speeding, driving under the influence and driving too fast for conditions as the major causes of accidents,” he writes, adding:
“These are all driver errors, and the removal of the trees will not change this fact at all.”
Rep. Southard cites the lack of enforcement on the corridor and reports that the DOT, in typical bureaucratic fashion, responded that law enforcement isn’t its responsibility, but that of the state Highway Patrol.
Rep. Southard speaks for all of those who have raised the issue by stating: “It’s unacceptable for two state agencies to fail to communicate in an effort to minimize driver error on our interstate highways.”
It’s entirely possible that the Highway Patrol doesn’t endorse the clearing proposal, since it will create a potential safety problem at night. At present, the trees in the median serve to prevent headlights from shining into the eyes of oncoming motorists. Indeed, we’re told that at least some local patrolmen say the trees serve another purpose. They keep drivers on opposite sides of the interstate from dangerous rubbernecking when there is an accident.
After citing his objections, Rep. Southard makes a pitch for a solution: selective clearing of the median. But the DOT wasn’t interested in that idea either.
There was, however, one bit of good news out of the meeting: The project isn’t expected to begin for a year, “giving opponents time to voice their concerns.”
Residents should do so, early and often. Maybe highway officials will get the message. Meanwhile, the DOT should follow Rep. Southard’s suggestion to discuss the matter with their counterparts at the Highway Patrol.
Mr. Southard’s observations are informed by his experience in site work construction, including two and a half years with the DOT. The agency should take note and, for all the reasons he cites, follow up on his recommendation to reconsider its position.
I-26 is one of the few interstates that could be described as scenic, at least for the 30 miles in question. Small wonder that motorists want to keep it that way.
The DOT should recognize the strong opposition to this project and do what it can to preserve the trees within the median. Maybe if DOT would do more to accommodate the interests of residents, there would be a higher public regard for the agency.
There might even be more support for meeting DOT’s long-standing financial needs if members of the public were assured that its resources would be used for projects they actually endorse.