Thursday, February 27, 2014
A 14-13 vote brought the issue of whether or not to cut the trees in the median of I-26 to a close Monday morning.
At its meeting the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments (COG) narrowly adopted a plan presented by South Carolina Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Rozier.
Rozier said after hearing the vast public disapproval of the original SCDOT plan to cut all of the trees, but still needing to solve a safety issue, the department developed a new compromising plan that would cut the trees in the areas that had the most fatalities, leaving 17 miles of trees untouched.
The commissioner presented the COG with a mile-by-mile study, compiled using data from 2007-2011, of the number of crashes and class-3 fatalities on I-26 between Summerville and I-95. SCDOT studies have identified the roadway as particularly dangerous because of the high number of fatalities.
His recommendation, on behalf of DOT, was to cut the trees in the seven identified miles with high fatality statistics. The other miles with low numbers would be allowed to keep the trees, with added surrounding protection. The study did not include miles 193-199 as that part of I-26 is being widened and the trees are already planned for removal.
The protection added around the trees “depends on the conditions,” said Tony Sheppard, SCDOT director of traffic engineering. He mentioned both a traditional guardrail, which redirects traffic, and a cable guardrail, which uses more of a catching mechanism, as possibilities.
The miles identified to have the trees removed are 169-171, 175-176, 178-179 and 187-191. The study identified 57 out of the 68 fatal or critical condition incidents that have occurred on the road were in those areas.
“Seems to me we can protect 17 miles of trees and solve the safety issue at the same time,” Rozier said.
Earlier in the meeting, COG Executive Director Ron Mitchum mentioned that rumble strips have been added to the area in 2010-2012, but DOT has not analyzed the data yet and because the information is not from a three-year sample period it’s not the most accurate.
Still, Rozier said the data is encouraging.
“We have added rumble strips and will be adding cables on both sides of where the trees are remaining. Three years after this we will look at the data and reevaluate,” he said.
The COG board of directors squabbled over the details of the various proposed plans before voting.
There were two votes – one to accept the recommendation of the COG subcommittee, and a second subsidiary vote to amend the subcommittee recommendation to reflect Rozier’s proposal.
The vote to adopt the amendment, a motion made by Summerville Mayor Bill Collins, was passed 17-14. The second vote to pass the recommendation the commissioner passed 14-13.
A few felt the second vote was unfair because not everyone voted, but others were pleased with the outcome regardless.
“I thought it was a very good compromise both for safety and for keeping the trees,” said Dorchester County Councilman Larry Hargett. “I was in favor of the recommended amendment and I voted for it. I think for the citizens it was a very good result and I think most citizens I’ve talked to will be in favor of what we did this morning.”