Onus on PennDOT to show (olive) branch

If you haven’t traveled Broad Avenue, between 24th and 31st streets, within the last week, make time to pass through.

Thanks to PennDOT, you’ll see a stark example of how city street trees should never be trimmed.

In a road maintenance contract for that portion of Broad Avenue, PennDOT ordered the lopping of limbs from curb to sky, a practice designed to improve motorist safety by reducing the risk of limbs falling into the street and by opening the street to sunlight to minimize icing in the winter.

While that drastic practice may be warranted in some areas, it turned five blocks of Broad Avenue into an eyesore.

Tall trees look as though they’ve been cut in half, vertically. Portions of trees left standing now sport multiple sores of freshly exposed inner bark, where limbs once grew.

Of the 70-some trees involved, an arborist says 44 will have to be cut down, although some may have warranted that action before the major pruning job.

PennDOT leaders have expressed regret and told city leaders that efforts will be made to address the matter, including removal of damaged trees. The agency says it wants to turn a negative into a positive.

A public meeting is to be scheduled in about a month to solicit requests and ideas from those who live in the area.

“What we’re looking for is a way to remedy a very serious issue – something that should not have happened,” Altoona Mayor Bill Schirf said.

In 2007, city leaders designated Broad and Beale avenues from Logan Boulevard to Union Avenue, subject to its Shade Tree Ordinance, requiring “any person owning real estate and/or residing in any such specially designated areas…to obtain a permit…prior to pruning, trimming removing” trees in the right of way.

In this case, PennDOT is the owner of the right of way, and it didn’t ask for a permit which would have exposed its contract to review before the job started.

For that failure, PennDOT needs to go the extra mile to work with city leaders, the city’s Shade Tree Commission, property owners and other interested parties on measures that will beautify a section of our city that is now stark.

Only then will PennDOT be able to claim that it turned a negative into a positive.