If you have traveled Interstate 16 between Macon and Savannah lately, you have probably noticed something missing: large patches of trees.
The change of scenery is stark — jarring even — along a route that has long been regarded as one of the region’s most monotonous corridors.
Folks accustomed to the wooded countryside on the drive to and from the Georgia coast have no doubt wondered why the trees are gone.
In some spots — mostly east of the Metter area — dense pines and hardwoods that for decades filled the freeway’s median have been cut down and removed.
Since springtime, more than 400 acres have been cleared between the road’s east and westbound lanes and at some interchanges where trees hugged the roadway.
The clear-cutting, which affects about 465 acres in all, was not to make way for more lanes. Instead, transportation officials say, the trees had to come down to make the highway safer.
The work, described in a statement from the Georgia Department of Transportation as a “safety enhancement project,” affects 10 sites in a 60-mile stretch from the Emanuel-Candler county line below Swainsboro to the Pooler Parkway west of Savannah.
“The vegetation removal efforts will help the department meet public demand for a safer roadway, while also enhancing aesthetics,” the statement said.
The department noted that the freeway will be safer in the affected areas because, among other things, cars and trucks that run off the road in wrecks or other mishaps will be less likely to hit trees. Also, the measure eliminates the chance of trees falling on the interstate in storms.
A department spokeswoman said the company that did the tree cutting along I-16 estimated the state will be paid about $600,000 for the harvested timber.