Council takes step toward cutting down I-26 trees

Emily Landeen (WCIV)

By Stacy

SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (WCIV) -- The trees along the median of Interstate 26 near Summerville have been the focus of debate for months in the Lowcountry. Now, the Council of Governments has made a final step toward a decision.

The Council is made up of leaders from Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. After a detailed SCDOT presentation, a special committee voted Wednesday to recommend the state chop down the trees.

"There have been a significant number of fatalities occur," Summerville Mayor Bill Collins said.

Next, the issue will be put before the public and then the 50-member Council for a vote.

According to the S.C. Department of Transportation, there were almost 2,000 accidents in a four-year period. Half occurred when cars ran off the road. Officials said the wrecks caused 44 fatalities.

"I would always opt on taking the scrub pines out before I'd risk another death on that section of highway," Collins said.

But Rep. Eddy Southard (R, D-100) was one of the two committee members who voted against the measure.

Southard said drivers must be held responsible and that officials can save both the trees and lives.

"We need to look at more law enforcement and look at what's causing the accidents. If it's speeding, we need to look at that," Southard said.

But Collins said it wasn't that easy.

"Inattentive driving, reckless driving and careless driving are hard to enforce. You have to have police and Highway Patrol everywhere. We don't have that," Collins said.

The measure dictates the DOT would install cable barriers in places where it razes the trees. It will leave about seven miles of trees untouched because of environmental protection measures, and place guardrails in those areas, officials said.

The project would cost about $7 million and would be federally funded, officials said.

The council expected to hold a public meeting in January. After that, there will be a 15-day period for public comment before the Council's 50 members vote on the measure.