Controversial I-26 tree-chopping plan heading for discussion

Controversial I-26 tree-chopping plan heading for discussion

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Within the next three weeks, the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments and the South Carolina Department of Transportation will meet to discuss the controversial plan to remove three acres of trees along the median of Interstate 26.

Chairman of the BCD Council of Governments, Larry Hargett, says he is full of questions regarding the proposed plan and is eager for both groups to meet and discuss the issues before any trees turn into wood chips.

"I want to get all the facts," said Hargett. "There are a lot of issues here – not just cutting trees."

Hargett say the BCD Council of Governments will act as an advisory committee for the Department of Transportation, which has the ultimate power to move forward with the project.

The decision to hold a meeting between the two groups took shape just before a letter from U.S. Representative Mark Sanford surfaced objecting the plan.

Sanford wrote to Hargett voicing his disapproval of the $5 million project claiming "the majority of people that I represent in the Charleston metropolitan area would not be in favor of a whole scale removal of these trees."

Hargett says he received the letter and spoke to Rep. Sanford about the issue in personSaturday night.

"I told him I would get to him with a letter," said Hargett. "There's a whole lot of questions that need to be answered first."

The Chairman mentioned specific questions like who will do the work, who will pay for it and whether the work is really being done to add lanes to Interstate 26 in the future.

According to Hargett, after an in-depth discussion with the SCDOT, he plans to hold a meeting for the public to sound off on the idea and give their opinions on the tree chopping plan.

Earlier this year, the SCDOT presented the plan 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.

State Senator Larry Grooms, who represents Berkeley County, filed a resolution against the tree removal in March 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.

The 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. Rozier tried to get commissioners to flip on the idea of cutting down the trees but the rest of the commission 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."

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