After a harsh year with a historic drought, rampant wildfires and heavy rainfall and storms in the spring, Texas Department of Transportation officials are asking citizens to be patient when it comes to the removal of dead trees along the roadway.
Jason Ellis, district forester for the Texas Forest Service, said the organization estimates between 100 to 500 million trees died last year across the state because of the drought.
“It's kind of like if you get sick and you get better, you can still be kind of affected by that in the long run,” Ellis said. “I think this drought — if it didn't kill trees — it may have shortened the life expectancy of (them).”
TxDOT public information officer Larry Krantz said, in a press release, that in a heavily wooded county such as Cherokee County, trees are a factor in how TxDOT plans its maintenance budget. The department does not rely on its road crews to do the work, but rather contracts the work to landscaping companies.
Krantz said TxDOT is far from experts in tree removal, and their the department primary focus is keeping roadways open and in good contition.
“For us, clearing trees only comes into the picture when they’re impeding traffic,” he said. “If we spent any more time on trees with our road crews, we’d have a hard time getting road work done. We have chainsaws we use to clear trees that fall across the road or otherwise block traffic.”
“But we’re far from experts in tree removal,” Krantz said. “When a tree falls across the road, all we’re looking to do is to get the road back open. If we tried to do any more, we could very easily make a situation worse by trying to do work we’re not trained or qualified to do.”
Krantz said feedback from the public is vital on the location of trees that may need to be marked for removal, but it may take some time before private contractors can get to them.
“The tree contractors work nearly year-round,” Krantz said. “But some split their time between various TxDOT sections. Sometimes, than means trees identified as needing to be removed may stay in place while the contractor works in other areas of the county or the district.”
Krantz said the crews do not remove trees that “might fall,” stating the agency does not have the manpower or budget to remove them and it would take away from the agencies primary mission, which is to maintain roadways.
There are also trees the agency does not have the right to remove.
“It all depends on where the roots of the tree are,” Krantz said. “If the roots are on state rights of way, they’re our responsibility to identify and mark for removal. If the roots are on private property, it’s up to that property owner to decide what to do with the tree.”
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