JASPER CO., SC (WTOC) - Between 2007 and 2015, almost two dozen people have been killed in tree-related crashes along Interstate 95 in Jasper County and 40 more were seriously injured. Officials said they are taking steps to make the interstate safer for drivers.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation said it plans to remove the trees from the interstate this winter, and they plan to install a barrier in the median to separate traffic. The project is expected to cost about $5 million.
First responders said the trees have not been responsible for vehicle crashes, but they do believe they have killed dozens of people over the years and injured dozens more.
"The statistics they have show these trees really cause death," Hardeeville Police Chief Sam Woodward said.
Woodward said when the cars leave the roadway and strike the trees, it's almost always a fatality or a serious injury.
"I've seen accident after accident. I understand that people do things wrong like texting, drinking. My problem is, it's a violation with the law, but if they are doing these things, and they run off the road and hit a tree, and it kills them, instead of the safer barrier where we can charge them with a traffic offense instead of having to call their next of kin and tell them they're dead," Woodward said.
Woodward said he is tired of making that phone call, and if cutting down the trees saves one life, the $5 million spent on the project is worth it.
"I'm glad to hear that they're finally moving forward with it," Woodward said. "I'm ecstatic that it's going to save lives. That's the main thing. I'm a firm believer that once they put the safer barriers up, it's going to really make a difference."
Because of the high fatality rate, the stretch of I-95 that runs through Jasper County has been nicknamed "the coffin corridor." It's something Woodward hopes wears off once this interstate is safer.
"It's not a good name to have, and I don't want it to be associated with Hardeeville. I want people to be able to travel through Hardeeville and Jasper County safely, and hopefully this will help," Woodward said.
The project will focus on the trees from the Georgia state line all the way to Exit 33. In some areas, they will install a barrier to separate traffic.
Officials said they still have more researching and surveys to complete before they begin cutting down the trees, but they expect to begin the project sometime this winter.