More than 250 trees are set to be removed around the Interstate 10/Interstate 12 split as part of the overhaul of the College Drive exit, the executive director of Baton Rouge Green said Monday.
Sage Foley, who leads the non-profit group, disclosed the number shortly after the state Department of Transportation and Development announced work would begin by the end of the month.
The trees are mostly around the Interstate 10/12 interchange as well as other pockets in the area, Foley said.
The plans are well above earlier estimates, which envisioned less than 200 trees in the path of the work.
Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said in an interview the number of trees set for removal is significant and "much more than we wanted."
"In order to move forward with this project we must clear some of the trees in this area to allow for the construction of the new ramp," Wilson said in a statement.
"It is unfortunate that we must do so," Wilson said. "However, we have pledged to replace each tree cut with two new ones. ...We will make every effort to preserve as many trees as possible and keep the aesthetic appeal these offer for this corridor."
Foley said around 350 trees are in the affected area.
She said most of those targeted for removal were planted around 2000.
Foley also said her group and DOTD have worked well together on the issue.
Aside from what the $380 million expansion of Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge will mean for traffic, homes and construction delays, another issue…
"We were devastated when we learned of the tree removal," Foley said in the DOTD statement.
"Years of time, care and philanthropic resources have gone into every one of our 4,000 plus Living Roadway trees," Foley said.
"However, we are very encouraged by DOTD's commitment to replanting two trees for each one lost," she said.
"The partnership we developed with DOTD and the contractor is a new model for all parties involved."
"We look forward to reimagining this entire corridor and replanting using only native species while putting to use the decades of knowledge and experience we have accumulated doing this work," Foley said.
The project will allow westbound motorists to exit at College Drive without having to cross multiple lanes of traffic.
About 17,000 cars and trucks use the exit daily.
The work is set to be done by late 2022.
The College Drive component is part of the widening of I-10 between La. Hwy. 415 and the I-10/12 split.
State officials initially planned to construct a flyover for westbound motorists.
Once that plan was dropped, Foley said, "that exponentially raised the number of trees they are to remove."
She said many of the trees targeted for removal are coming into their prime, helping residents to save on energy costs and aiding in storm-water runoff.
DOTD earlier planned to plant 1.5 trees for every tree removed but upped that after the list grew.
Plans to remove the trees came to light in 2019 and sparked a huge outpouring of concerns after a public hearing on the College Drive plans. Trees alone accounted for about 20% of the 500 or so written comments after the hearings.
Baton Rouge Green has planted and maintained more than 4,300 trees at 24 sites along roadways in the Baton Rouge area.
It was launched in 1987 to help restore the city's urban canopy.
Under the plan, the new trees will be planted by the group and Baton Rouge Green will also craft a plan to protect trees remaining in the construction area during the work.