Six inches will determine the fate of trees along a stretch of West Fourth Street in Newberry – trees that for many residents provide shade, a noise barrier and add to the overall quality of life for the small community.
Roughly 50 Newberry residents shared their opinions during a meeting to discuss the impending West Fourth Street reconstruction, its timetable and, most importantly, trees.
“Quality of life is diminished if we don’t have greenery,” said Alannah Gabriel, of Newberry, asking city and state officials if there is a solution to the tree dilemma. “To not see a tree would be heartbreaking.”
The reconstruction project is aimed at revitalizing the section of the street between Hillside Avenue and the Route 15 interchange. But, to do so will require the removal of 51 trees, according to Heidi Lozano, project manager with the state Department of Transportation.
The project, according to Lozano, requires that all of the existing trees be removed, starting Feb. 18, as the construction process will kill them anyway. However, in conjunction with revitalizing the street, the sidewalks also will be renovated and widened to bring them up to federal standards in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In doing so, the space between the sidewalk and the street will be narrowed.
At least 30 inches of lawn space is needed to plant a tree, according to an ordinance issued by the City of Williamsport.
Therefore, the trees that are removed may not be able to be replaced, according to Adam Winder, general manager of the city streets and parks department. Variances could be made to the ordinance on a case-by-case basis, he said, adding he could not guarantee that any trees will be replanted.
“I’m more than willing to go through and look to see if there are places we can put trees,” Winder said. However, “the space you have is going to dictate the tree you can put in that place.”
As trees grow, their roots spread and eventually can upend the road and sidewalk, ultimately causing some of the same issues already facing that street, Winder said. The ordinance, he added, is to prevent that from happening.
While many residents wanted to begin drafting variances to the tree ordinance right away, Winder stressed that they need to wait until after the two-year project is over and all of the construction above, and below, the ground is complete.
In addition to PennDOT work, the city Water and Sanitary Authority will replace its sewer laterals in the street and then connect them to each structure. The connections will be made along the street and in the spaces between the sidewalk and road, eliminating space once dedicated to the trees.
Verizon also will install equipment on utility poles along the street, Lozano said, which will take up more space.
Solutions for the tree dilemma lie in continued communication with city officials, Winder said. He said his department would be traversing West Fourth Street to determine what the exact measurements will be and who would like their trees to be replanted.
Regardless of future developments, come spring, the Newberry throughway will be bare.