WSAZ Investigates | Danger Above

WSAZ Investigates | Danger Above
Published: Mar. 24, 2022 at 7:01 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - It’s been six months since Charleston City Councilman John Bailey was killed after a tree limb fell on his car along Greenbrier Street. Since then, work has been done to trim some of the trees along this busy section of road, but other stretches still have large trees with limbs hanging over traffic.

Drivers who travel Greenbrier Street every day reached out to WSAZ, saying they are afraid another tragedy will happen if these large limbs aren’t cleared. Christy Wade said she now drives this stretch of road white-knuckled, spending more time looking at the trees than the road while taking her children to and from Capital High School.

“I can’t help but think about what happened to (Bailey) and if a tree could fall on me or the buses or anyone else who is driving through,” Wade said. “There’s a large tree hanging by a vine. There’s trees that have poor root systems, and there’s trees that have fallen along the line. It’s just dangerous.”

Wade called the city of Charleston the day after Bailey’s crash to express her concern about the trees hovering above the road. She was told Greenbrier Street is a state road that is maintained by the Department of Highways (DOH), so she then reached out to Gov. Jim Justice.

“The Governor’s Office did call and said that they were going to deal with it,” Wade said. “That was the day after the accident, and here we are six months later.”

Wade said she thinks more people will be killed by trees falling down onto the road that is already covered in splintered pieces of wood. The shoulder between Airport Road and Capital High School even has a number of large trees, and branches that were just chopped off at the white line to not interfere with traffic.

We couldn’t find any information about tree-trimming programs on the DOH website, so we sent an email to a DOH spokesperson asking for an interview about this issue and a couple of questions about the topic. Four days after sending the email, the DOH sent out a press release about the tree trimming program. It wasn’t until 20 minutes after sending out that news release the DOH responded to our email, “last year our crews trimmed from the interstate to Hillcrest Drive on Greenbrier Street, and we are working along the road this year as well.”

The DOH press release said crews have cleared trees along 500 miles of road across the state since November, which is the start of their permitted canopy clearing season. State laws used to limit DOH to trimming 140 acres of trees every year, but that restriction was lifted this year. The work is done by the same people who plow and salt roads, so trimming time is also limited.

WSAZ asked the DOH spokesperson in an email if we could follow around a tree-trimming crew to get video of the work, and once again requested an interview. The spokesperson ignored that request in their response, “we have a contractor in place to continue cutting individual trees of concern, even after the end of our standard tree canopy clearing season, along Greenbrier Street and in other areas across the state. We absolutely join the public in wanting safe roads for everyone.”

However, Wade does not think enough is being done to keep this road safe. She wants more trimming to be done in the right of way along Greenbrier Street, including removing trees that hang over the road surface. While Wade knows it’s impossible to remove all risk, she thinks simple tree trimming can make sure her family and others are safe driving along this busy stretch of road.

“Cutting down a few trees is worth saving several lives,” Wade said.

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