ONTARIO — This month, crews from Jacobs – the City of Ontario’s public works department – and a billboard company based out of The Dalles will pick back up on the East Idaho Avenue Tree Planter Project. For this phase, they will be removing 21 trees from the north side of the road east of the Interstate 84 overpass, and replacing them with 10 that are more spaced out.
But work can start until the trees come down, and it is expected that will happen on March 18. It was anticipated this leg of the tree planter project would have started a couple weeks back, however winter storms that caused several interstate closures in eastern Oregon from snow coming out of the Blue Mountains delayed the start.
The trees were first planted 20 years ago, and need to be removed for several reasons. These include overcrowding, disease and borer beetle infestation. The trees planted this year will be non-fruiting varieties of Crimson Pear, which will not grow and bloom out like the previous trees, according to Cliff Leeper, public works director for the City of Ontario.
As with previous phases of the project, Meadow Outdoor Advertising will pick up much of the overall tab.
“The only cost [to the City of Ontario] is for materials, including grates, rock and irrigation lines,” Leeper said, adding that Jacobs was donating any labor not done by the billboard company.
Workers with the billboard company will cut the trees down and grind the stumps.
Then Jacobs crews will step in.
“We will go blockade lanes next to where we’re working and take the top cover off and do exactly what we did last April,” Leeper said.
This includes using heavy equipment to scrape soil from between the sidewalk and curb, installing a slow-drip irrigation system, adding filter fabric and crushed rocks and installing grates.
The grates have been manufactured specifically for this project, he said.
Betsy Roberts, engineer for the City of Ontario, said Meadow Outdoor Advertising is paying for the removal of the trees, purchasing the new trees and has even committed to annual maintenance, including pruning.
“It’s a really good partnership,” she said.
As for the remaining trees on the south side of East Idaho Avenue, east of the I-84 interchange, work will be on pause there for a while, according to Roberts.
According to traffic studies that were part of a Transportation System Plan Amendment, there might be a future need to widen the roadway further south on the existing Oregon Department of Transportation right-of-way, she said.
“The anticipated growth in that area would require additional left and right turn lanes,” Roberts said.
More traffic studies are planned by Oregon Department of Transportation, Leeper said.
“The last thing we want to do is install [new trees], then have to remove them two or three years later,” he said.
However, Roberts added, if the forecast shows the need to widen the road is far out in the distant future, there is the possibility that ODOT would “work with us on an interim solution.”
For now, the trees on the south side will stay, even though they are at the end of their span.
“Meadows has been nothing but an excellent partner with the city,” Leeper said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”