Highway trees are maintained for safety

Workers recently cut down many of the trees along Interstate 5's northbound lanes between Central Point and Gold Hill. From a driver's point of view, I have to say the selection process looks totally random. Some large trees relatively near the roadway have been left standing, while smaller ones farther from the lanes of travel were removed. What was the reasoning for taking the trees down in the first place, and who decides which trees go and which ones stay?

— William D., Rogue River

There are a number of reasons why some trees get the ax while others are spared, William. (Don't your friends call you Bill? Don't you think of the kind folks at Since You Asked headquarters as your friends?)

Anyway, the Oregon Department of Transportation is in charge of the trees along Interstate 5. Like any big organization, ODOT has various people involved in deciding how to maintain the roadways, plus they have an ODOT manual that describes "best maintenance practices," which is a phrase we hear a lot from government officials these days. (They like their pet phrases and have their jargon like any organization or business.)

A maintenance manager is responsible for different sections of roadway, overseen by the district manager. Trees that are deemed hazardous are removed. Trees that are dead or leaning into the roadway are cut down. Trees are trimmed so signs are easier to see. The thinning and removing of smaller trees provide more room for larger trees to grow.

One of the reasons ODOT is concerned with problem trees is that fallen limbs can wreak havoc on equipment. If a mower encounters a fallen limb, it can cause a lot of damage to the blades, as you might imagine. Low-hanging limbs impede access to tall grass and can bend or break a tractor exhaust stack. If a tree has been cut down, crews will come out to grind down the stumps before the spring mowing begins.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.

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