HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – About a dozen trees along Front Street are marked with a pink “X,” but PennDOT doesn’t know why.
Looking south down Front Street from Division there are about 12 trees marked with a pink “X.” This has grabbed many people’s attention when passing by. Most thought it meant the trees were doomed due to the repaving project.
Early Tuesday morning, so did PennDOT.
By the afternoon, the pink “X” turned into a mystery that PennDOT and the City of Harrisburg could not readily solve.
The markings sent social media abuzz as many people became concerned that the century-old trees would be removed for Mayor Papenfuse’s bike lane.
PennDOT said those rumors are false.
PennDOT spokeswoman Fritizi Schreffler said four trees will be removed for new crosswalks; two on the riverside at Front and Radnor and two more at Front and Emerald.
“The trees would have to come down because they are so close that they’re actually compromising the integrity of the curbing,” she said.
Schreffler said PennDOT worked with the city in planning the project. She said the trees must go to allow handicap accessible crosswalks at the intersections.
“It’s not something we suddenly come with,” Schreffler said. “I know people think PennDOT hates trees. We only cut trees down for a reason. The reason is always going to be a safety factor.”
She said the trees are an obstruction for pedestrians and drivers.
“You can see that tree is obviously going to be a problem in terms of sight distance for somebody who wants to see if there’s traffic coming,” she said, “but also for the motorist who would be suddenly startled seeing someone walk out into the street to cross.”
Blooming Glen Contractors, hired to perform the work through June 2016, marked only four trees on the street, Schreffler said. All parties involved in the project said they are not responsible for marking others.
City engineer Wayne Martin, communications director Joyce Davis, and a recently hired city arborist went to investigate the mysterious pink markings Tuesday evening. This has caused much confusion between the city and PennDOT.
Schreffler did want to set the record straight for the public, which she believed was confused over how the bike lane entered the project.
She said the Front Street overhaul was always planned to reduce the state road’s three lanes to two. The decision was to have two 10-foot lanes with two five-foot shoulders in order to get motorists off the curbs and the trees. PennDOT concluded this would purposefully slow traffic and enhance safety.
Last summer, Papenfuse asked if a bicycle lane could be added to the ride-side shoulder. PennDOT said they conducted studies and approved the idea, which is to shift the lanes over one foot so a rumble strip can accompany the designated bike lane.
Schreffler said the repaving project is in no way a bike lane project. Front Street will receive new eight-inch curbing, which has been worn down over many years. The street will be grounded as deep as possible and built back up to make way for a repaved road between Division and Paxton streets.
The project will also include the section between the I-83 off-ramp onto South Second Street until about Mulberry Street, where the train bridge is located.
Schreffler said PennDOT is not widening the road and the trees are not being removed because of the bike lane. But she also said the city has been aware of the removal of four trees throughout the planning process.
“To answer [environmentalists] concerns, the city definitely knew which trees were going to be cut down,” she said.
Of the four trees slated to be cut down, PennDOT said the trees on the Riverfront Park side then become property of Blooming Glen Contractors, which will likely become mulch or firewood. At this time, there is no plan to replace the removed trees with new trees further back.
“That would probably be on the city to go ahead and replace trees at some point,” she said.
Members of the Harrisburg Environmental Advisory Council said they were going to express their concerns during Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting. At the time, many were under the impression about a dozen trees were doomed.
Members with the EAC also wanted to raise the question over transparency in this case and future projects which could include the removal of trees.
When asked if the decision to cut down the four trees was final, Schfreffler confirmed.
“Yes, these trees are coming down,” she said.