Council stands with the trees on I-26

By Stacy

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Trees sit overlooking the median against the busy traffic of Interstate 26.

Now, a divisive debate about the trees has taken root.

Officials with the S.C. Department of Transportation called part of the stretch between I-95 and Summerville a "number one priority" to address accidents.

In a four-year period, there have been almost 2,000 accidents along the stretch, with 44 fatalities and more than 700 injuries, officials said. Half of the accidents happened when cars ran off the road.

"If you'd had a son or daughter or mother or sister that got killed in that stretch, you'd like to see something done for safety," said Jim Rozier, the DOT commissioner for District One.

The DOT's solution was to clear the trees. But, the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governors vetoed that solution on Monday.

"I want to make sure we can have the safety we deserve and the beauty that we've all come to love," said Sen. Larry Grooms.

"How we look and feel as a region is important," said Rep. Mark Sanford.

Sanford called the issue a matter of economic development.

"I've had CEOs make decisions based on the look and feel of our area," he said. "That first impression is the lasting impression in their decision in whether or not to make the $600 million that ultimately grew into Boeing. That's had a huge impact in this part of the world."

The DOT offered alternatives like guard rails or cable fences. But, officials said the cable could be more costly and harder to maintain.

Rozier said the best compromise may be thinning out the trees in the median but not removing all of them

"Maybe you get rid of that tunnel effect," he said. "Maybe you get rid of the trance people go into in that tunnel."

Still, he said as long as the project remains a safety issue, it will be federally funded.

The Council asked the DOT to do a comprehensive tree review. Members will also form a committee to decide what to do with the issue.

The DOT cannot do anything with the trees until the Council gives a directive.

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