Connecticut lawmakers abandon highway tree bill over massive price tag

Connecticut lawmakers are abandoning an effort to reign-in tree cutting along state highways over a potential $100 million price tag. But frustrated homeowners hope a compromise can pass during this year’s legislative session.

John Craven

May 8, 2023, 10:15 PM

Updated 351 days ago

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Connecticut lawmakers are abandoning an effort to reign-in tree cutting along state highways over a potential $100 million price tag. But frustrated homeowners hope a compromise can pass during this year’s legislative session.
Keywan Rasekhschaffe’s home backs up to the Merritt Parkway in New Canaan. He said a canopy of trees used to block the noise – until state highway crews cut them down.
“It's, you know, noticeably louder than it used to be,” he said.
At night, when crews are working well past midnight, the noise is even worse.
“The house is shaking, our kids can't sleep,” said Rasekhschaffe. “It's been really tough.”
It's not just the Merritt. Across the state, the Connecticut Department of Transportation is removing hundreds of dangerous trees. It's designed to prevent deadly crashes like one that killed a couple in 2007 – and cost the state $6 million.
“Seventy-two people were killed on Connecticut highways over the last three years by either trees falling onto their vehicles or themselves crashing into a tree,” said DOT spokesperson Josh Morgan. “There are certain trees, there are certain areas, where we have to do work in the name of safety, and that's our top priority here.”
But at the State Capitol, some lawmakers think the program has gone too far. After dozens of Fairfield residents said they received no notice about tree cutting along I-95, state Sen. Tony Hwang (R-Fairfield) grilled DOT leaders at a recent legislative hearing.
"Who did you notify before you went and cut it?”, Hwang asked. “Where was the notification of the residents?”
A bill would require DOT to replace every tree it cuts down, preferably in the same location. The state would also have to pursue more noise barriers, even though the federal government rarely pays to add barriers to existing highways.
But the legislation is stalled because of a massive price tag. A nonpartisan analysis estimates the price tag at up to $100 million – each year.
“Based on the amount of land the Department [of Transportation] deforests in any given year through both its maintenance and construction programs, reforestation efforts are expected to be in the $50 million - $100 million range annually, beginning in FY 25,” the state’s Office of Fiscal Analysis wrote.
“The legislation isn't moving forward this session, but that doesn't mean that we're not going to continue talking to DEEP [Department of Energy and Environmental Protection], continue talking to our local officials, our elected officials,” said Morgan.
An earlier version of the bill would have required DOT to give residents a month’s advanced notice, and have a professional arborist sign off on tree removal.
Morgan said DOT already does both, but Rasekhschaffe and other neighbors insist they were never warned.
“Notice would help so much because then you can plan ahead,” he said.
Although the legislation is dead for now, parts of it could come back attached to another piece of transportation legislation or the final state budget.


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