Verdict still out on I-26 trees after public hearing

More than 40 people spoke Tuesday night on the plan to cut the trees along Interstate 26. (Source: John Gaddy/WCIV)

By Stacy

SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (WCIV) -- The S.C. Department of Transportation heard from 41 people at a public hearing regarding the trees on Interstate 26 Tuesday night.

The trees sit in the median of a 29-mile stretch of I-26 that the DOT has marked as a top priority due to the number of injuries and fatalities on the corridor between Summerville and Interstate 95.

The majority of speakers at the Summerville High School hearing did not want the DOT to cut the trees down.

"It's the responsibility of the person behind the wheel that drives down that interstate," one speaker said.

"We all want the same thing. We want scenic highways," another speaker said.

One by one, they took the microphone and explained why the trees should stay or go.

"Removing the trees would probably be a the best solution because of the way the land is formed," said George Abney, a former teacher and 20-year Summerville resident. "Safe driving is everyone's responsibility. But, there are conditions that no one can anticipate."

But Abney was in the minority of attendants. Like many, Mary Comer thought cutting all the trees down was a move in the wrong direction.

"I just think there's a better solution. That's not addressing the problem. It's addressing a consequence," Comer said.

"I feel like they can leave a lot of the trees and place guard and cable rails in places where there are a lot of accidents," Adriaan Kwist said.

Kwist's suggestion was one of a few options on the table.

But, in that case, the specific type of cable would have to be more expensive than any used in South Carolina. The DOT said regular cables would cost $5 million, whereas, such special cables would cost $10 million, plus extra expenses to repair and maintain.

Other options on the table included only cutting down trees in the most dangerous parts of the 29-mile stretch, District 1 Commissioner Jim Rozier said.

"We've got to do something. Otherwise the federal government says the road is unsafe and you start losing federal funds. People think that's okay but it's not okay. It's the way we take care of roads in this state," Rozier said.

The decision will be up to the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments. The group of leaders from the tri-county area will tell the DOT how to proceed.

Officials hoped the BCDCOG would make a decision by its next meeting at the end of February.