Median's trees leave for a new road

Moving: Plants dotting Rowe Boulevard at the city's gateway are transplanted to make way for bridge work.

March 28, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A truck rolls onto the median of Rowe Boulevard in Annapolis, flattening tiny purple crocuses, tulip leaves and weeds. Machinery at the rear of the truck plunges four blades into the soil and emerges with a 1 1/2 -story-tall tree before driving away.

There goes - quite literally - the graceful landscaping of the gateway into Maryland's capital city. One by one, 57 trees are leaving town, being taken a few miles away to a median on Route 450 just outside the city. There, they are being replanted.

The $24,900 tree relocation, which began last week and is expected to be finished Tuesday, is the first phase of $33 million in bridge repairs expected to be completed in summer 2006.

The span of Rowe Boulevard over Weems Creek is being replaced, and the bridge over College Creek will be redecked and improved - which means the median will be ripped up soon. With about 70,000 vehicles traveling that area daily, the State Highway Administration has planned lane closures for 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. as needed.

Fresh landscaping - a similar array of ornamental trees with bulbs, perennials and ground covers - will provide finishing touches to the new spans.

A decade ago, the median landscaping was part of a $1.42 million project to improve and beautify the entrance to the city.

Moving day

Friday was moving day for the median's crape myrtles. The multi-trunked trees are bare now, but near summer's end, dark green leaves will cover them and balls of white flowers will sway from their branches.

Though these are specimen trees, the decision to transplant them was a close call, said Joseph E. Vervier, environmental analyst for the State Highway Administration. At other projects, trees were cut down because starting anew made financial sense, he said.

The median's bulbs, mostly crocus and tulip, won't be transplanted. But the Weems Creek Conservancy asked if its members could dig up the bulbs and replant them. SHA spokesman David Buck said that the agency will try to work out an arrangement, but that it may not be feasible because of the construction schedule.

On Friday, three crews from Ace Tree Movers of Gaithersburg drove 50,000-pound trucks onto the Rowe Boulevard median.

"Although it looks like we just pull the tree up and plant it, it is much more than that," said Michael Cunningham, general manager of Ace.

Standing by a tree, Jose Quinteros helped a driver position a truck so that a hydraulic spade would line up. Quinteros pulled the spade's teeth around the tree. Then operator David Shaver took over, working levers on the side of the truck to sink the 80-inch-long blades into the ground.

That done, he lifted the crape myrtle and its root ball a few feet out of the dirt. Quinteros scraped excess dirt from the blades before the tree was laid horizontally on the truck and the men tied its branches.

Leaving a cone-shaped cavity behind, the crew drove to the grassy Route 450 median near the Maryland World War II Memorial overlooking the Severn River.

Earlier in the week, crews accidentally sliced a gas line near the Route 450 site, although they had received approval from the utilities locator to dig there, SHA officials said.

On Friday, the operation went off without a hitch. Quinteros directed the positioning of the truck near an identical cone-shaped pit.

Using the truck's levers, Shaver lowered the tree and its dirt into the ground. Shovel in hand, Quinteros smoothed the dirt around the edges. Within minutes, the truck rolled to a nearby spot and dug out a plug of dirt that would create a hole for the next tree - and be used to fill its pit on Rowe Boulevard.

A continuing process

Cunningham said that once the trees - crape myrtles, red maples and willow oaks - are moved, Ace's job is not over. The root balls will be given nutrients, growth hormones and microscopic organisms to ease their move and promote new growth.

At Route 450 site, another crew dug another hole. Workers attached a black cover over the spade full of dirt.

"That's the diaper to protect from dropping dirt in the street or on the car behind me," said operator Jose Iraheta.

Minutes later, his truck left to swap its plug for another crape myrtle.

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