Force DOT's hand on I-26 trees

The DOT should provide all the details on its plans to remove trees from I-26 between Summerville and I-95. In this photo, trees line the median along Interstate 26 at mile marker 189.

State Sen. Larry Grooms wants some answers about the DOT’s plans to clear-cut the median on I-26 from Summerville to I-95.

In March, the Senate approved his resolution to suspend any action on that ill-considered proposal until DOT officials met with the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Review Committee to explain.

So far, that recommendation to exercise legislative oversight over the controversial project has failed to get House approval.

But Sen. Grooms is not to be deterred. He included similar language in a budget proviso that was endorsed by the Senate this week.

The Berkeley County Republican’s persistence is to be commended. The DOT should provide all the details on its plans to remove trees from I-26 between Summerville and I-95. And if it doesn’t, Sen. Grooms would put the project on hold.

Heavy-handed? A bit, perhaps. But less so than the DOT’s willingness to hack down the trees in the interstate’s median.

Presumably legislators would have ideas to improve the DOT’s flawed plan.

Sen. Grooms is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and has been a strong advocate for providing more assets to the underfunded agency. Last week, the Senate narrowly turned down his proposal to commit 10 percent of revenue growth to the DOT. Next year that would have been an estimated $70 million.

But it’s hard for the DOT to win public support for increased funding with proposals like the I-26 clear-cutting on the drawing board. That project is opposed by the resident highway commissioner, several local legislators and many of their constituents.

One more legislator has joined those who oppose the DOT plan to cut all of the trees along the 30-mile stretch of roadway and then place a cable barrier in the median.

Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, says the DOT should install cable barriers alongside the highway, between the road and the trees in the median. Doing so would preserve the trees, while meeting the DOT’s safety goals.

Moreover, those trees have a safety function of their own, limiting the glare of oncoming headlights at night, and restricting the dangerous practice of “rubbernecking” when accidents occur across the median.

The DOT is required to hold a public hearing on the tree-cutting proposal before it gets under way, so local residents will eventually have an opportunity to offer their views. But we’re all too familiar with DOT’s willingness over the years to listen to the public — and then do exactly what it intended to do in the first place.

Sen. Grooms is determined to get the DOT’s attention, and one way or the other, you can bet that he will. DOT needs to be called to account before it removes this scenic roadway from the state’s dwindling inventory.