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DOT cutting trees as a safety measure
Cars on Cleveland Highway pass by an area where the Georgia Department of Transportation has cut trees away as part of the pre-winter tree clearance. - photo by Tom Reed

Yes, it’s hard to think about winter when the temperatures outside are still touching the 90-degree mark.

But the Georgia Department of Transportation is getting a jump on bad-weather months through a tree-cutting initiative, something motorists likely have noticed the past few weeks on U.S. 129/Cleveland Highway in North Hall.

“This is part of our routine maintenance activities,” said Teri Pope, spokeswoman for the DOT’s Gainesville-based district. “We do it this time every year to prepare for winter weather.”

Some recent work has taken place on hillsides off the curvy Cleveland Highway, south of Bells Mill Bridge, which crosses Lake Lanier, and heading toward Gainesville.

A chipper used to turn trees into mulch for coverage in rights of way broke last week and is being repaired. “It will probably be two weeks before we start back again trimming trees,” Pope said.

Randall Murray and his wife were driving on the road when they noticed the work. “Everything was chopped down to stumps maybe a foot high,” he said.

On another occasion, Murray was heading north on the road when the work forced a lane closing and a pilot car was used to help lead traffic on the only lane opened.

He got a closer look and said he was shocked at the extent of the cutting.

“It looks like a timber company went into the Oregon mountains and bulldozed,” said Murray, who lives off Cleveland Highway.

But Pope said the work is done strictly with safety in mind, striving to ensure “that the roadway is safe and open for use all the time.”

“Trees are a definite safety concern inside right of way for several reasons,” she added.

The DOT works to maintain a “clear zone” from the edge of the pavement, or an area containing signs on break-away posts or trees smaller than 3 inches in width.

“The goal is to ensure that if a vehicle strikes any object in the clear zone, that object will break away and not cause additional damage to the vehicle or people inside the vehicle,” Pope said.

Larger trees “can increase the severity of injuries and cause fatalities when struck by a vehicle,” she added.

Trees are cleared to improve visibility of signs along the shoulder of the roadway and sight distance at intersections and around curves, as well as allow drainage ditches to operate efficiently.

Another concern is trees falling across the roadway during inclement weather.

Two years ago, on Ga. 10 Loop in Athens, motorists were trapped because trees had fallen on the roadway.

“DOT crews were using chain saws and cutting the trees away instead of salting the roads,” Pope said. “The roads were in fine condition. Trees falling caused the danger.”

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