Reasons for tree removal
There may be several reasons as to why one individual tree is being removed. Boulevard trees within this specific project are being removed for the following reasons:
- Tree condition rated “poor”
- Proactive ash tree removal
- Conflict with overhead power lines
- Pedestrian facility updates
- Sidewalk relocation
Foresters from MnDOT and the city of St. Paul have classified several trees in the project area as being in "poor" condition.
Knowing the condition of urban trees and the state of the environment in which they exist allows city and state foresters to make better-informed decisions. Trees in urban environments are exposed to different stresses including soil compaction, lack of nutrients, air pollution, de-icing salt, drought and confined space. These stresses have a negative impact on the condition and health of urban trees. As a result, urban trees have shorter life spans than trees in a natural forest and rarely reach a mature size.
Younger trees are essential in continuing the future urban forest canopy. Both proper diameter distribution and good tree health ensure that the loss of older trees due to natural decline will be a gradual, phased process, without the sudden absence of the larger diameter classes.
A tree in poor condition reflects the present structural integrity of a tree, as well as its state of health. A poor condition indicates the trunk has damage, decay, hollowness and/or other damage. Generally, major limbs and/or branches could be dead, broken or missing. The smaller branches, leaves or reproductive structures extending from the truck of main limbs can be thinning or unbalanced. Foresters also look at the expected life expectancy of the tree and if pests are present.
Proactive ash tree removal
Several ash trees along Smith Ave. and Dodd Rd. are proactively being removed as part of the project.
The Twin Cities will lose all its public ash trees due to emerald ash borer, leaving holes in the urban forest canopy that will take decades to fill. The enormity of the infestation has left many Twin Cities communities in crisis. Leaving infested trees standing poses a risk to public safety because the trees become brittle and can fall during high winds or storms. Even if trees still look healthy, they can be infected. In addition to added costs, attempting to use pesticides could harm bees and other insects in the ecosystem.
Depending on the location of the project and the scope of work involved, there may be specifications, special provisions or other state agency regulations tied to a specific project to help control the spread of these insects or diseases. MnDOT is using this opportunity to support city efforts in removing ash trees with state construction budget.
Note: Property owners will not be assessed for the removal of ash trees.
Tree conflicts with overhead power lines
Trees that fall or grow into power lines can cause outages and be a serious hazard to people. To prevent tree-related outages and accidents, MnDOT will be removing some trees. Removal will reduce likelihood of electrical outage and fire risk, and help improve the overall reliability of power.
Pedestrian facility updates
Pedestrian facilities including sidewalks and pedestrian ramps along sections of Smith Ave. and Dodd Rd./Hwy 149 are being updated to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The ADA is a civil rights law that protects individuals with disabilities in public accommodations and ensures they have equitable access to pedestrian facilities. MnDOT has a policy to bring pedestrian facilities into compliance with the ADA, create system uniformity and enhance the pedestrian environment.
To meet ADA standards, a sidewalk should be at least four feet wide, although five feet is preferred. Five feet allows for two pedestrians to walk side-by-side or pass each other on the sidewalk. Per ADA requirements, a consistent five-foot width eliminates the need to provide passing space (five feet) at 200-foot intervals.
Alternating between four- and five-foot sidewalk widths to avoid tree roots would create usability concerns and is not ideal for those with disabilities. Additionally, the alternating may not be an effective strategy for avoiding damage to tree roots. Other ideas to weave around the sidewalk to avoid tree roots also are not ideal for those with disabilities. This strategy could create an unexpected and/or inconsistent path that could lead to a safety risk.
More specifically in regards to tree identified on the map, some planned pedestrian ramps require level "landings" at the bottom and top of each sloping ramp. These landing standards can likely compete with tree roots for space.
Note: Property owners in the project area are not being assessed for bringing the sidewalks into compliance with ADA standards.
Certain sections of sidewalk within the project area are being relocated to avoid future property easements or acquisitions for repair and maintenance
An easement grants MnDOT the legal right to use private property. MnDOT typically needs to pay residents and private property owners for this right to work on their property. Those properties with sidewalks close to private property lines—within six inches—are being relocated to avoid future easements or acquisitions of property. MnDOT typically prefers two feet from property lines to maintain and repair sidewalks. If sidewalks are not relocated, there are two scenarios that would require more coordination, easements and/or permanent acquisitions.
Each property can be unique. Generally, those residents where existing sidewalks exceed six inches from property lines may not be relocated due to future easements, maintenance or repair needs.
A sidewalk may still be reconstructed if in poor condition or does not meet ADA standards. Relocating the sidewalk will support sidewalk usability and consistency with the overall system of sidewalks. Only replacing or relocating portions of sidewalks may create issues with “weaving” and/or inconsistencies in sidewalk quality that can complicate future sidewalk management (maintenance, repair, and reconstruction). Tree root damage is generally anticipated from sidewalk relocation and reconstruction due to limited space in the boulevard.