Calling DOT to account on I-26 median trees

Trees line the median along Interstate 26 between Summerville and Interstate 95.

The state Department of Transportation continues to draw fire for its drastic plan to clear-cut nearly 30 miles of median along I-26, and rightly so. Too bad there’s been no apparent movement by the DOT to reconsider the proposal.

Maybe a Senate measure to halt the project, pending a legislative review, will get the agency’s attention. Its sponsor, Sen. Larry Grooms, spoke for those who have raised objections to the plan: “I really want to see why they are doing it, and if there is an alternative.”

Of course there’s an alternative. The DOT could choose an approach that would improve safety on the highway while respecting the scenic contribution that trees provide.

Under such a plan, some of the trees probably would be removed to provide for a center safety cable, as recommended by DOT engineers. But most could be retained by using other safety measures.

There’s no good reason for the DOT to rule out guardrails, for example. They are used along wooded stretches of I-95 in the Pee Dee to enhance motorist safety — and to preserve trees in the median.

Sen. Grooms wants the project to be reviewed by the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Review Committe. On Thursday, the Senate Transportation Committee, which Sen. Grooms chairs, sent the proposal to the full Senate. It could be debated as early as next Wednesday.

If the proposal gets legislative approval, the project would be delayed until the review panel makes a recommendation.

Meanwhile, 1st District DOT Commissioner Jim Rozier is urging the agency to revise its plans so that hardwoods can be preserved within the median, particularly along Four Holes Swamp, a protected area that provides valuable wildlife habitat.

It’s unfortunate that the DOT invites legislative involvement by its unwillingness to gauge public sentiment before advancing a project that was bound to create controversy.

Apparently, the DOT is simply tone deaf on matters of preserving scenic roadways, such as the portion of I-26 in question. In this instance, the highway commission even declined to support the objections raised by the resident commissioner.

The DOT should recognize that South Carolinians want to retain scenic roadways, and are prepared to act on their behalf even when it inconveniences the agency’s plans or disrupts its schedule.

Maybe a trip on I-26 between Summerville and I-95 this spring would give DOT planners some perspective.

The yellow jessamine and redbud already are blooming in the median.