- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (AP) - The South Carolina Department of Transportation expects to balance highway safety and highway beauty as it considers a plan to remove trees from 23 miles of the median of Interstate 26 outside of Charleston.

The department wants to remove the trees to improve safety along the interstate between I-95 and Summerville where 44 people were killed between 2007 and 2011. In addition, more than 700 people were hurt in almost 2,000 crashes during the same period.

A public hearing was set Tuesday in Summerville on the DOT plan is to cut the trees and install a cable guardrail in the middle of the median for 23 miles along the interstate. Along an additional seven miles of the highway passing through wetlands, the trees will not be cut but guardrails will be installed on both edges of the median.

The hearing allows residents to comment on the project and gives department officials a chance to discuss the need for safety improvements and the timetable for doing the work. The $5 million project is expected to take about a year and a half to complete.

The department says it also wants to hear from the public about historic or cultural resources that may be affected as well as any impacts on wildlife.

One of those opposed to the tree cutting is U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, who planned to attend Tuesday. He appeared at an earlier public hearing on the project and says the trees are part of the natural beauty of the Charleston area that helps attract development.

Last year, state lawmakers inserted language in the state budget requiring the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments to approve the project before the Transportation Department can proceed with the work.

The council is expected to take up the issue next month. A council committee voted last year to recommend approval of the project.

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