Safety plan could remove hundreds of trees on Highway 61

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Ashley River Road is a two-lane highway known for its scenic route which includes hundreds of oak trees.

But it is also one of South Carolina’s worst roads when it comes to vehicle crashes.

That’s why South Carolina’s Department of Transportation is proposing a plan to improve safety on Highway 61. It’s part of the state’s Rural Roads Safety Program.

Officials say that 30 percent of fatal and serious injury crashes happen on just 5 percent of the state’s roads. Highway 61 ranks high on that list.

The solution would include widening the pavement and cutting down trees along a six-mile stretch of the highway. The area would be from Bacons Bridge Road in Dorchester County to the Charleston County line.

DOT officials are proposing widening lanes to 12 feet for the 5.1 miles from SC 165 down to Middleton Place.

They would create 4-foot paved shoulders for the road, and trees would be removed within 25 feet of the pavement to create a “clear zone.”

The space would give more room to cars that may leave the road during an accident.

Rob Perry, the director of traffic engineering for SCDOT, says they are proposing a second alternative that would allow less trees to be cut on a portion of the road.

With the second proposal, the 1.4 mile stretch of road near Middleton Place wouldn’t be widened. That area would only have 4-foot shoulders and 12-foot clear zones on either side.

“If we went with the normal alternative 283 trees would be cut, but the alternative we’re proposing for that 1.4 miles would be 58 trees and 22 oaks,” said Perry.

Some people who live in Summerville say that 58 trees is still too many.

Adriaan Kwist says he likes some of the ideas the department has to improve the highway, but he says he doesn’t want any trees to be cut down.

Jason Crowley is the director of Communities and Transportation for the Coastal Conservation League and says that the road is an iconic part of the Lowcountry, and the tree canopy is renowned for Ashley River Road.

He hopes that through community comments and working with stakeholders, they can come up with better solutions for the highway.

“Charleston County did a resurfacing project on Ashley River Road on their side, maybe in 2014, and they added a 2-foot median with rumble strips,” said Crowley. “ That’s a model that we think needs to be applied on the Dorchester side.”

DOT officials say they welcome all the input they get and will take that into consideration. They hope to bid the project by next spring and then construction would start next summer.

Click here for more information about the proposed plans.

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