Lawmaker tries to halt tree cutting on dangerous I-26 portion

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A state lawmaker has filed a resolution prohibiting removal of any trees from the targeted portion of Interstate 26 until the Transportation Review Committee has had a look at the project.

State Senator Larry Grooms, who represents Berkeley County and is in the running for Tim Scott's vacant Congressional seat, filed a resolution Tuesday that reads:

Tree removal, or similar activities, in the median of Interstate 26 from approximately mile marker 170 to approximately mile marker 199 between Summerville and Interstate 95, is prohibited until the Joint Transportation Review Committee has reviewed and commented on the project.

Recently, the South Carolina Department presented plans to cull three acres of tree along 29 miles of I-26 in Dorchester and Berkeley counties. That stretch of highway has been referred to as the most dangerous in the state.

Between 2007 and 2011 there were almost 2,000 crashes on that section of the interstate causing 44 deaths and 709 injuries.

Grooms' resolution will take effect if Gov. Nikki Haley approves it, although she has already voiced support for the project.

Haley's spokesman, Rob Godfrey, said the department considered options to preserve the trees, but improving safety is more important.

The $5 million project is focused on making the stretch of highway safer and, aside from cutting down the trees in the median, it also calls for the installation of cable guardrails.

SCDOT Commissioner Jim Rozier says the plan to cut the trees was discussed as a part of a larger vision that will eventually include widening that stretch of Interstate 26 to three lanes.

Dana Beach with the Coastal Conservation League says the transportation department does not have to cut all the trees to improve safety.

Rozier tried to get commissioners to flip on the idea and not cut the trees down in the median. But the rest of the group did not agree with him.

"You win some you lose some," Rozier said."But after hearing the reasons why the trees were being cut down it's hard to argue that this will help safety."

Permits for the projects are being applied for now and that process could take 3 to 6 months.

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