Naked Highway: Why Denude the Interstate?

Mountains of mulch are all that is left of trees along I-59 in north Dade. GDOT says it's safer, and some people like it better that way, says the county boss.

Last week, Dade Planet reader Jim Sparks asked why the Georgia Department of Transportation was systematically cutting down every tree along I-59 in the northern part of Dade County. In the discussion that ensued on The Planet’s Facebook page, other readers pointed out the same clearcutting had happened in the south end.

The Planet duly passed the question on to GDOT, which answered through Mohamed M. Arafa, its communications officer in the District 6 office in Cartersville, as follows;

"The roadside vegetation management work along I-59 in Dade County is intended to help improve safety and visibility along the interstate. Over the years, vegetation along I-59 (and I-24) has encroached on the interstate’s shoulders and slopes, creating a potential hazard to the traveling public. As you may very well know, trees close to the road can present a fixed object hazard. Grass, weeds, brush and tree limbs can obscure or limit a driver’s view of traffic control devices (signs), approaching vehicles and wildlife. Controlling vegetation helps reduce crashes and injuries.

In addition, during severe weather, trees can be blown down, landing on

the grass shoulder, on the paved shoulder or sometimes even in the travel lanes

creating an unexpected object hazard. In addition, during the winter months the encroaching vegetation can cast shadows onto the roadway which prevents the sun from quickly drying the moisture off the roadway.

In sum, roadside vegetation management/control main goals include:

  • Enhancing visibility by keeping signs visible to drivers.

  • Improving visibility of potential hazards near the roadway

  • Removing trees close to the roadway which could result in a severe crash if hit.

  • Improving winter road maintenance in snow and ice areas.

  • Helping drainage systems function as designed."

The Dade Planet also asked Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley, who stressed that the clear-cutting had nothing to do with the county. That didn’t stop the county boss from expounding as to its cause.

“It’s going on through the whole United States,” said Rumley.

He reminded The Planet that the interstate system was a military initiative started under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. “Every six miles or whatever,” said the Boss, “there’s supposed to be an area where the largest plane at the time that the military owned can set down and take off, across the whole United States, even in West Virginia where those old hills are at.”

Uncle Sam turned over maintenance of the interstates to the individual states, said Rumley, but the states hadn’t kept them as tidy as the Feds preferred. Now, he said: “They’re forcing them to go and clear-cut all of that.”

Another reason is visibility, added Rumley, “for deer and animals, and to be able to see.”

Rumley said he does think the cutting has helped drivers see deer, which are always a problem in Dade. “I think safety-wise it needed trimming back some,” he said. “Of course, they went to the extreme.”

And he understands why people whose homes are along the interstate dislike the cutting. “It’s opened up their houses,” he said. The trees also acted as a sound buffer which residents are now also missing, he said.

But overall, said Rumley, he hasn’t heard that many complaints. “I’ve heard more likes than I did dislikes,” he said.

Did the clear-cutting order really filter down to GDOT from on high? Is the federal government really responsible for keeping I-59 clear enough to land military planes, in case (as is so often speculated during local political campaigns) it decides for any reason to invade Dade by force?

The Planet asked the federal Department of Transportation, and will pass on to its readers any reply. Watch this space!

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