Heed public, protect I-26 trees

Public outcry has helped change the S.C. Department of Transportation's plans to remove many of the trees, shown here, along I-26. (Grace Beahm/File)

I-26 is perhaps the state's most scenic interstate highway, at least the portion between Charleston and I-95, and local residents want to keep it that way. They said so, persistently and persuasively, during months of controversy over plans by the state Department of Transportation to remove most of the trees from the median along that 21-mile stretch of highway.

The controversy was on the road to being resolved after the Legislature adopted a proviso by state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, to turn the planning process over to the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments.

The COG voted last year to keep most of the trees and install cable barriers, some alongside the remaining trees and some in the center of the median.

While it could reasonably be argued that a better solution would have been to keep all the scenic trees, and install additional roadside barriers, the COG plan was far better than DOT's. And the plan moved a step closer to reality at the recent meeting of the highway commission, which authorized taking bids for the project work.

Even so, pressure mounts to widen the highway to six lanes to accommodate increased traffic, particularly that related to the port of Charleston. But Sen. Grooms, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, recognizes the need to respect the scenic corridor.

"I still want to retain as many as can be kept there," Sen. Grooms told us Friday. "It sets us apart from other places."

That the motoring public supports the scenic distinction should not be lost when future DOT projects are advanced for I-26, and similarly tree-lined stretches of I-95.

The public outcry on I-26 sent a clear message: Progress doesn't equal clear-cutting and ugly highway corridors.