West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) maintenance crews cleared more than 430 miles of trees and branches away from the state’s roadways between November 2022 and the end of March, enough to stretch from Charleston to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Canopy clearing plays a vital part in prolonging the life of the pavement on West Virginia’s 36,000 miles of road. Along with keeping ditches cleared and proper drainage, keeping roads cleared of overhanging canopy is important both to the life of the road and to the safety of drivers.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the crews,” said Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston. “I gave them a challenge. They believed they could do it. I believed they could do it. They did it.”
Wriston said the miles of road cleared are enough to drive from Charleston to Myrtle Beach. The old record of 170 linear miles would have left you stranded north of Greensboro, N.C.
Wriston set a goal for the state’s 10 highway districts to clear at least 400 miles of trees and branches along the state’s roads, a process known as canopy clearing. By law, maintenance crews are only allowed to clear canopy between Nov. 15 and March 31. The restriction is in place to protect endangered bat populations, which don’t use trees during those months.
WVDOH work crews exceeded that goal, clearing more than 430 miles of trees and branches by the end of the season.
Canopy clearing is important in maintaining uncluttered sight lines for drivers and eliminating the hazards from falling trees and branches, but is vital in keeping roads dry.
“Water is a highway’s worst enemy,” said Joe Pack, WVDOH chief engineer of District Operations. “Anything we can do to keep water off our roadways or to help dry up that water will prolong the life of that road.”
Moisture left on pavement degrades asphalt fast, so maintenance crews cut away limbs and branches to allow sunlight to get to the roadways below.
Maintenance crews use bucket trucks, chainsaws, pole saws and chippers to clear away branches and limbs and grind them up. Bucket trucks have a reach of 40 feet, but maintenance crews have pole saws that are up to 175 feet long for reaching the highest branches.
Like cutting grass in the summer, milling and filling potholes or clearing ice and snow, canopy clearing is part of the WVDOH core maintenance program. Combined, core maintenance procedures prolong the life of pavement and keep roads safer.