Thank Gov. Henry McMaster. Thank S.C. Transportation Director Christy Hall. But most of all, thank yourselves: No whole trees will be removed along a scenic 6.5-mile stretch of S.C. Highway 61 in Dorchester County. The 55 mph speed limit will be reduced to 45 mph, and the proposed 4-foot paved shoulders will be hemmed back to 3 feet.
Thanks to the pushback from conservation and preservation groups, the historic plantations along the National Scenic Byway and everyday Lowcountry residents who cherish the oak-shrouded two-lane highway, the Department of Transportation agreed at the governor’s request to not cut down any trees as part of an effort to improve safety along the heavily traveled rural route.
Hundreds of live oak trees were previously in danger of being cut down under plans from the state Department of Transportation.
Some limbs, however, might be trimmed. The work is expected to start late next year.
“We’re revising the project for Highway 61 that will greatly reduce the number of trees that will be affected and still preserve a significant safety plan,” regional DOT Commissioner Robby Robbins told The Post and Courier in anticipation of a news release Thursday afternoon.
It’s a rare win when it comes to trees versus the DOT, and it’s reassuring that politicians and bureaucrats are listening when the people speak. Based on the public’s response to a Sept. 24 public hearing, the vast majority of residents were opposed to the initial plan that called for cutting down 283 trees.
Yes, a considerable number of drivers have died from crashing into trees along Highway 61, but most of those deaths were attributed to speeding or drunken driving, according to a DOT analysis of crash data over seven years.
The Department of Public Safety also agreed to step up law enforcement in the area.
The highway will get the latest in rumble strips, down the middle and along the shoulders to help keep drivers on the road, and more signs will go up warning drivers of curves. But the tree canopy, which gives the road its character, will be largely unaffected.
“Because of this innovative plan, this road will be safer for our people than it has ever been before and it will be as beautiful as ever,” Gov. McMaster said in a news release.
Highway 61 is the Lowcountry’s most iconic road because it runs through an almost unaltered landscape past Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation and Middleton Place. So it’s rightly listed on the National Register of Historic Places and should be preserved as the treasure it is.
As you drive along the Ashley River on scenic S.C. Highway 61, suburbia fades in the rearview mirror.
People should stay alert, though. The battle to preserve the Highway 61 historic district isn’t over. North Charleston and Charleston are locked in an annexation battle for tracts along the highway just south of the Dorchester County line, housing developments are pushing north along Bees Ferry Road and the Summerville area’s growth is marching south.
But for now, you can chalk up a win for the trees and for people speaking up about preserving the Lowcountry’s natural beauty and historic places.