Southard weighs in on I-26 tree removal

  • Wednesday, April 3, 2013

I am against the proposal to remove trees along I-26.
My experience has helped guide me on this issue: I have 2 ½ years with the South Carolina Department of Transportation; 20 years contract administration and construction with the U.S. Government; and 27 years of site work construction as a small business owner.
On March 21 I had the opportunity, along with other elected officials, to discuss this issue with Secretary of Transportation Robert Onge Jr. Commissioner Jim Rozier, the DOT traffic engineer, was also present, as were federal highway administrative officials.
After a presentation to justify their intent to remove trees and install cable barriers, we were given an opportunity to ask questions.
I was against this proposal before the presentation and did not hear anything during it to sway my position. Following are some of the reasons why:
• SCDOT refers to this activity as mere tree removal, but in actuality, it would be more of a clearing and grubbing operation. The stumps would also have to be removed to accommodate the median mowing. This would also require the closure of the inside lanes during this activity. Lane closures in interstate highways are only allowed at night, thus driving the costs up.
• I asked why there were more accidents toward the median and not the right side of the highway. Per the design of highways, the vehicle should be just as apt to go off the right side as the left, and there are plenty of trees on the right side that are not under scrutiny.
• We were presented a chart depicting distractions, speeding, driving under the influence and driving too fast for conditions as the major cause of accidents.  These are all driver errors and the removal of the trees will not change this fact at all. 
The obvious question is why are there are not more police officers patrolling the stretch between I-95 and exit 199 at Summerville. I believe a blue light is still the best deterrent to speeding. 
My recommendation is two officers assigned to eight-hour shifts each for three months, and let’s see if serious or deadly accidents are significantly reduced. 
Their response was that the SCDOT does not enforce traffic laws; this is a Highway Patrol function. It’s unacceptable that two state agencies not communicate to try and minimize driver error on our interstate highways.
I furnished information stating that more pedestrians are killed each year on South Carolina secondary roads than deaths on our interstates. About 85 percent of all crashes do not occur on interstates. 
Speeding and the lack of wearing seatbelts are still the major cause of highway deaths.
A SCDOT report for the period July 1, 2012 listed highway 402 in Berkeley County with the second most severe safety needs statewide. The panel didn’t appear to be aware of this report when furnished the information.
In closing, let me say that I appreciated the time allowed for this discussion. I did learn that the $5 million is a federal highway safety grant that can’t be used for anything else. I asked the officials to at least consider selective clearing, leaving the larger oak trees.  They didn’t appear too receptive to that idea. It was stated that the project would not begin for about a year giving opponents time to voice their concerns.
I respectfully request SCDOT to reconsider their position and not have another project in Berkeley County like the Oakley Road at US 52 intersection improvements. Elected officials are expected to know the reasons and justifications for projects like these; however, I can’t explain to anyone the reasoning for either of the two.
Eddy Southard represents House District 100 in Berkeley County.

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