Colleton’s success leads to I-95 work in Jasper County | News | The Press and Standard

by | February 16, 2017 9:47 am

By GEORGE SALSBERRY
gsalsberry@lowcountry.com
South Carolina Department of Transportation’s proposal to embark on a multi-million-dollar proposal to remove trees from Jasper County’s I-95 corridor is based on the first steps taken in Colleton County.
In 2011 the South Carolina Department of Transportation came to Colleton County with a pilot program, “Timber Management for Safety.”
The plan was to harvest many of the trees in the I-95 median between mile markers 50.6 and 53 as a way to limit the severity of automobile accidents.
That small section of I-95 in Colleton County was selected because over a five-year period, it had the second-highest number of highway fatalities involving trees in the interstate medians of South Carolina.
Between 2003 and 2008, Colleton County recorded 14 interstate median fatalities due to trees within that two-and-one-half mile stretch.
At that time, trees were a factor in 25 percent of all South Carolina traffic fatalities. By comparison, trees were a factor in eight percent of the traffic fatalities nationwide.
In 2011, SCDOT officials explained that the project’s goal was to improve safety by increasing the “clear zone” to provide for adequate recovery for vehicles that leave the roadway.
SCDOT gave L-J Inc. of Columbia a $1,098,000 contract to handle the tree removal project. They cut down the trees, removed the stumps and trucked everything out of the median.
The section of roadway targeted had a tree line approximately 30 feet from the roadway — the tree removal work increased that clear zone to 46 feet.
The state transportation department collected accident statistics from the two-and-one-half mile section of I-95 from before the project (Jan. 1, 2008 and June 14, 2011) and after the tree harvesting in the median (Nov. 11, 2011 and Dec. 31, 2015) as a measure to test the effectiveness of the tree removal.
Here’s what they found:
Numbers    Before Project    After Project
Crashes                     22                           5
Property damage only    10                  4
Injury crashes          9                             1
Fatal Crashes           3                             0
That decline in accidents in the area has continued; it has been a long time since Colleton County Fire-Rescue Chief Barry McRoy has had to place a pin on that section of a county map that hangs in his office.
When a fatal accident occurs on a road in the county, McRoy places a push-pin on the map at the crash’s location —  a pin for each life lost in the traffic accident.
The pins, a different color for each year, had clogged the map near where the work was done.
“We have had no fatalities since they cut the trees down,” said McRoy. “We have seen a dramatic reduction since they cut down the trees.”
McRoy said had not anticipated the tree removal would have as big an effect as it has. “They did a really good job on it. I wish they would take the rest of them.”
One area where McRoy would like to see the state implement the tree removal program is further north on I-95. “The hot spot now is mile marker 64. I’d like to see the state take on those trees.
“A lot of fatal accidents in Jasper are caused by the same problems we had here,” McRoy said.
The Colleton County pilot project involved removing about 20 acres of trees; in Jasper County, state officials want to remove 99 acres of trees.
The work in Colleton produced a clear zone of 46 feet between the roadway and trees. The work in Jasper County would establish a clear zone of 55 feet. There are portions of the interstate in Jasper County where the treeline is about 20 feet from the roadway.
The Colleton project involved two-and-one-half miles of interstate. In Jasper County, the tree removal work will be done from the Georgia-South Carolina border to mile marker 32.5.
Colleton was a $1-million project. In Jasper County, the tree removal proposal is estimated at $5 million.

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