Life-saving plan to cut trees may cost millions of dollars

by: Richard Elliot Updated:

The Georgia Department of Transportation estimates a proposed bill requiring it to cut down every tree tall enough to fall onto an interstate would cost between $45 million and $75 million.
ATLANTA —

The Georgia Department of Transportation estimates a proposed bill requiring it to cut down every tree tall enough to fall onto an interstate would cost between $45 million and $75 million.

State Rep. Al Williams of Midway proposed the bill. He said he introduced the bill after a falling tree nearly killed a fellow lawmaker and after a tree collapsed onto Interstate 20 in Rockdale County last week, killing a truck driver.

"If a tree falls on you, and you are driving 70 mph, it can have some tough, tough consequences," said Williams. "If it saves one life, it's worth everything we do."

But GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale said such a plan would cost more money than the department has available now.

"We appreciate the sentiment behind the bill," said Dale.  "What we're looking at is 1,500 miles of roadway and about $30,000 to $50,000 per mile, so we're talking about tens of millions of dollars which the department may not have at this time."

Williams believes the state could make up the cost by allowing timber companies to bid on the projects then allowing them to keep the cut trees, but Dale said the $30,000 to $50,000 per mile cost takes timber sales into account.

"It's not very practical," said Dale.  "It's a great idea, but it's not very practical."

State Rep. Bob Bryant of Savannah said a falling tree nearly killed him along Interstate 16 a year ago.  He would like the state to find the money to get this project done.

"I think sometimes we have to forgo money," said Bryant.  "We find money to do everything.  I think we should find money to save lives."

Given that Crossover Day is scheduled this week, the point at which any bill must move to the other chamber to survive, the odds of the bill passing this session are slim.