HARTSELLE — A man driving a sport utility vehicle slowed as he approached the Hartselle city limits Monday morning.
He pulled through one of the turn lanes and stopped. The man would not give his name, but he was not pleased with what the state was doing: cutting down trees.
“We’re just doing what we were hired to do,” supervisor Steve Wettesen of Asplundh Tree Expert Co. said.
The Pennsylvania-based company contracted with the Alabama Department of Transportation to remove Bradford pear trees from the medians on U.S. 31 in Hartselle.
“It could take us about two weeks,” Wettesen said. “We’ll grind up the stumps, put dirt in the holes and plant grass seeds.”
Although it may not be in the same holes, ALDOT has agreed to replace the trees with crepe myrtles, Mayor Dwight Tankersley said.
ALDOT Division 2 Engineer James D. Brown said the trees do not comply with federal guidelines because their trunks’ diameters are greater than 4 inches.
Vicky Taylor stopped to inquire about what was happening.
“Oh no,” she said when told about the tree removal. “I’ve been traveling this road nearly 15 years and they have always been here.”
Hartselle Beautification Association Executive Director Carolyn Wallace said residents are attached to the trees because some of them were planted as memorials.
“They just don’t understand how it’s going to be safer if you cross the median and hit a car head on,” she said.
Wettesen said there are visual issues as well.
“Most people didn’t know these trees would get this big when they were planted,” he said.
Before the state announced plans to remove the trees, Hartselle city officials received complaints from bus drivers and truck drivers about them obstructing vision.
The city eliminated trees near Hartselle’s industrial park at U.S. 31 and Thompson Road, and in the median where turn lanes were installed for Lowe’s.
Wettesen said other cities in the state, such as Sylacauga, where he is from, also have removed trees.
The state’s plan to make medians safer started in early 2006 in the Birmingham area, when ALDOT requested that Vestavia Hills remove about 100 trees between Interstate 65 and Shades Crest Road.
Five years ago, the state talked about liability issues after a driver who hit a tree in Hartselle filed a $500,000 lawsuit, claiming, in part, that the trees were “in violation of federal highway guidelines which limit the size of trees which may be maintained in roadway clear zones.”
By noon on Monday, Asplundh workers had removed all of the trees from the Decatur-Hartselle city limits to Whispering Hills Road.
The trees number more than 100 and are over a six-mile path from city limits to city limits.
“We’re going to have two hauling trucks out here (today) and that should speed things up,” Wettesen said.
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