Well, we are back to another meeting Tuesday on the trees.
Back at the meeting in July, I spoke because I believed the majority of the people I represent didn’t want to see a wholesale clear-cut of the trees in the 30-mile median on I-26 between Summerville and I-95. I made several points.
One, that for the overwhelming majority of people who visit the tri-county area, this is the front door to our home, and initial impressions can be lasting impressions. In particular as governor, I had seen the economic significance of our region’s unique quality of life, look, and feel, and I don’t believe we would have been able to attract Boeing without it. This means our area’s beauty is not only tied to what keeps so many of us here and attracts so many more, but it’s part of the goose that lays the proverbial golden egg in our region’s economy. It is competitive advantage.
Chicago has a bigger airport, and Newark has more waterways, but they don’t have what we do, and to maintain it requires us being proactive on issues large and small.
Two, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) just worked to leave trees — why undo that here? When I was governor, the DOT took a very wise step in leaving the trees up between the lanes of traffic as it widened Highway 17 south of Charleston around the Combahee River. For most traveling through the ACE Basin, their only experience of it is the drive; making parts of it a “parkway” was important in showcasing the lands preserved in that area.
Three, other areas have made a tree-and-people combination work, and my mother’s notion of balance in all things applied here. Every one of us is sympathetic to the tragic loss of life that comes with car accidents, and in that regard 1,000-foot clear zones on all sides would be safest. But I work in Washington, D.C., during the week, and there are a whole host of parkways in different corners of the metropolitan area that have trees surprisingly close to the roadways and yet are able to handle traffic counts that in many cases are far heavier than those experienced on I-26.
Accordingly, I believe there must be a way of combining the need for safety with the advantages that come from leaving a vegetative buffer between the two lanes.
Former Congressman Arthur Ravenel voiced this opinion 25 years ago, which led the DOT to institute its practice of not cutting the strip between the lanes of traffic that have now become forested.
Think about it, a demand for vegetation, a green barrier and a different look led to the DOT practice of allowing this very area to grow into the trees that the DOT now wants to cut.
But as I have thought on the issue, there is a bigger theme that DOT planners are missing entirely — and that is that there is a special pride of place in Charleston. We do things differently, and it’s part of the magic of the Lowcountry. Show me a cobblestone street that DOT planners would now permit. Show me a street in Cleveland where you have a church that juts out to take over the street as it does on a street we call Church.
We could all come up with things that make our part of the world different, but a great lady by the name of Frances Edmunds said it best 40 years ago when she talked about how preservation of what we have was sensible and practical. At the time, many areas were tearing down the old to make way for the new, yet she had the wisdom to push against conventional wisdom because she believed keeping some of what’s unique about an area enhanced livability and beauty. She knew doing so would also enhance our culture, environment, businesses and tourism.
Charleston as we know it today would not be here without foresight like hers, and on the trees of I-26, I think we would be wise to learn from her wisdom.
Mark Sanford, a Republican, represents South Carolina’s 1st District in the U.S. House.