American Legion Highway getting re-do; 520 new trees on tap

Over 200 trees were removed from the American Legion Highway between Blue Hill Avenue and Walk Hill Street last month, surprising members of the Franklin Park Coalition nearby.

"At first we thought it was maintenance, but there were too many coming down," said Christine Poff, FPC's director.

The lumberjacking took place in preparation for a complete $9 million reconstruction of the street from end to end, courtesy of NStar, which recently built a new conduit under the road and thus will help fund its replacement. Planning for the project has been going on for seven years, according to Bernie Lynch, the maintenance director for Boston's Parks Department, but construction only got underway when NStar stepped in. To mitigate the tree removal, 520 new trees will be planted along the sidewalks and medians of the highway.

"This net gain of 300 trees is going to create the highway that everyone wanted," said Lynch. "We are planting more trees there than in the rest of the city this fiscal year. From the tree point of view it's a lifetime opportunity. It's over $400,000 for tree work alone."

Poff is concerned because many of the trees taken down were extremely old, some were 100-year-old Oaks, and the private contractor who assessed their health may not have taken into account how their location on a busy street might have made them appear unhealthy even if they could still survive.

"If I had known [they were coming down] I would have gone and looked myself," said Poff. She said she attended a planning meeting for the project years ago and signed a contact list but never heard more about the project. "I assumed that it was going the way of projects that have no budget."

Director of Boston Transportation planning Jim Gillooly said funding has been sought for years on the project, but wasn't found until the NStar conduit project came through. According to him, five traffic lights, all the streetlights and all the broken or missing pieces of sidewalk along the way will be replaced. Lynch added that new macadam sidewalks will be added to the road between Walk Hill Street and Myerson Road, which didn't exist before.

In addition to the improvements on the sidelines, the road itself, when paved, will include new left hand turning lanes at some intersections and either a dedicated bike lane or a wide outside lane so that cars and bikes can share the road. The state roadway design manual calls dedicated bike lanes a "preferred" method of accommodating bicycles. New curbs will also be installed to keep cars on the road.

"One of the issues that has been disastrous on that roadway has been all the collisions into trees," said Gillooly. "It's better for the cars to bounce of the curbs."

The street is speed zoned for 30 to 40 miles per hour in different spots but a casual observer might note a few speeders in the area. Gillooly said enforcement might be an answer to that problem.