Press release by Southeast Georgia Department of Transportation Engineer, Bradford Saxon, P.E., District 5 District Engineer. As district engineer for southeast Georgia’s District 5, Brad Saxon oversees the state transportation activities of the district. The 24-year GDOT veteran has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology and is a licensed professional engineer.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has heard the concerns from some southeast Georgia residents about the removal of overgrown brush and trees from the medians on I-16 and I-95, a program that Georgia DOT first announced in February 2017 and is expanding to corridors across the state.
I have seen some media reports that do not mention the key reason why Georgia DOT has embarked on this project: SAFETY. And questions have even been raised as to whether motorist safety is the real reason for the Department’s comprehensive plan to remove aging, overgrown trees and brush and replace them with grasses and wildflower gardens.
Let me be clear. Safety is Georgia DOT’s number one priority. It is our responsibility—our obligation—to maintain roads in a manner that provides the safest passage possible for motorists.
In Georgia, 60% of fatalities from crashes are the result of lane departure; while 51% of fatalities result from vehicles striking fixed objects. And there are more than twice the number of fatalities from hitting trees than when the collision involves any other fixed object. In fact, during the past three years, there have been 472 fatalities statewide involving a crash with a tree. These alarming figures indicate deaths that may have been preventable.
That is why we are working across Georgia to clear overgrown brush and trees in the state right of way along our roadways – to restore “clear zones” and expand recovery areas. These areas must be free of obstacles like trees that can be struck by errant vehicles, which inadvertently leave the roadway – obstacles that can make the difference between life and death in the event of a crash. Many of these clear zones and recovery areas have been lost over time as volunteer vegetation (plants that grow on their own from seeds that float in the air or are dropped by birds) establishes itself over the life of a corridor. Restoring clear zones and recovery areas will not only save lives, but will also help minimize the severity of injury due to nonfatal run-off-the-road crashes.
While we empathize with residents living next to interstate highways who have come to enjoy some benefits of overgrown brush and trees, I believe we would all agree that saving lives must take precedent.
These safety projects will also clear trees, some of which are dead or diseased, that can fall and block roadways during and after storms, hurricanes and tornados. In the aftermath of 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, downed trees on interstates not only delayed coastal residents from returning home, but could have also cost lives if first responders weren’t able to immediately get to emergencies. We were fortunate during this storm that no trees fell on passing vehicles, which could have endangered lives. Georgia DOT worked quickly to get the roads passable by using contractors to remove and dispose of debris. These emergency contracts cost taxpayers millions of dollars just in clean up and removal of downed trees.
At the moment these safety projects are not yet complete and are therefore not yet attractive. However, when GDOT announced this program more than a year ago, we made it clear that our plan for clear zones is to not only clear the areas, but also to reestablish and beautify them. Following through on that promise, soil-stabilizing pollinator flower gardens will be planted seasonally in designated areas to minimize or eliminate erosion. These gardens will be pleasing to the eye and will offer a habitat for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and grasshoppers. Additionally, grass planting is scheduled to begin this spring and will continue through the fall. We are also developing plans to plant small growth trees at the Exit 1 interchange on I-95 in Camden County, as well as in some of the wider median areas along I-16. The Department’s planting season runs from October to mid-March and tree plantings are done when the trees are dormant.
Finally, based on feedback we have received from area residents, GDOT is striving to strike an even better balance between safety benefits and aesthetic appeal. On a case-by-case basis and to the extent that we are able, we will make adjustments and reconsider clearance plans in medians, ramp gore areas, and areas near residential developments. Such adjustments may include leaving some healthier trees while removing brush so that the areas can be neatly maintained.
With safety foremost in our minds, please know that we at GDOT fully understand the importance of roadside appearance and the beauty of healthy trees and plantings. As originally planned, we are aggressively pursuing clean up, grassing, and beautification in all of the affected areas in order to provide appealing and safer roadsides that will serve as a welcome mat for Georgia travelers.
Editor’s note: The following article was a press release written by GDOT’s engineer which states that media outlets are saying safety was not part of the primary reason for GDOT’s decision to remove the vegetation. Local media outlets, including AllOnGeorgia, along I-95 and I-16, have reported this information from GDOT. However, Mr. Saxon’s release does not say anything about GDOT responding to how they intended to deal with the future requests to reduce noise. GDOT has not responded to these inquiries. Furthermore, beautification costs projections have not been released to the public. Many media outlets along I-95 and I-16 have asked this question, and media has been told that those project costs are not available.
Currently, the project totals for I-95 and I-16 are as follows:
$4.5 million for Interstate vegetation management contracts.
$6 million for Hurricane Matthew cleanup contracts.
Preliminary phase of the landscape/beautification projects: The amount to be determined.
– Jeremy Spencer, Market Manager AllOnGeorgia-Camden/Glynn Counties.