As the Augusta Engineering department oversees the work on Greene Street as part of the Transportation Investment Act projects, several residents have expressed concern about the number of trees getting cut down along the scenic downtown thoroughfare.
John Ussery, the assistant director for the Augusta Traffic Engineering division, said that the city contracted out the plans to an engineering firm with landscape architects and arborists who worked out which trees to keep, which to remove and how they would be replaced.
“There was approximately 200 trees on Greene Street,” Ussery told the Chronicle. “We removed approximately 60. And we’re planting back over 100.”
The Chronicle filed an open records request for any records provided by the contractors about the trees, which was denied due to a lack of records.
“We hire these consultants and they have teams of people that look at various aspects of the project design, but they don’t hand us every single note they take,” Ussery said. “… But we don’t get all of that because I don’t need to see it. I’m not an arborist.”
The Chronicle did obtain the full 331-page engineering plan for the Greene Street project, which included details of the landscape.
Initially the project was supposed to run from East Boundary to 12th Street, but because of costs the project was split. The current work is being done from 5th Street to East Boundary, with the work out to 12th Street being saved for another project.
The planting schedule shows a range of trees — American elms, oaks, tupelo and crape myrtle — and shrubs planned for the project.
Ussery said they hired a separate outside inspection firm with relevant expertise to oversee the contractors doing the work on Greene Street.
“The city staff, we’re like the project managers. We manage the money, we manage the consultants,” Ussery said. “… In a project of this scope, we only have three inspectors. And … it would take those three guys all their time to do this inspection.”
Some members of the Augusta Commission have suggested hiring a city arborist, which Ussery said could have advantages. Within engineering, however, he thinks there would not be enough work to support a full-time position.
“When we resurface a street, there’s no landscaping. When we build a bridge, there’s no landscaping component,” he said. “And so … this arborist would need to work with more than just our department because we wouldn’t have enough projects to keep them busy full time.”
Ussery did say that during the planning process members of the Augusta Tree Commission did review the plans.
“Augusta Engineering went through very extensive process to get to this final construction phase,” wrote Director of Engineering and Environmental Services Hameed Malik in an email, including two years of an “extensive public/stakeholders engagement process.”
Later this fall, Ussery said that Engineering will being another major project with the renovation of Broad Street, which will also involve some tree removal, as will the second half of the Greene Street project — although likely not to the extent of the first. Broad Street will see extensive landscaping work around the James Brown statue, including more benches, music, interactive elements, water features and more.
“Broad Street, since the … tree removal and stuff is going to be similar to Greene, we may … hold maybe one public meeting just to show the landscape plans; let people see what we intend to do,” Ussery said.
As for Greene, Ussery thinks residents will notice more than just the trees that are gone. Every corner will have a ramp. The sidewalk that goes down the middle of the street would be improved along with the lighting. The new trees being planted are “Augusta National” size trees.
“I think it’ll be a very, very neat place to visit and experience Augusta,” he said.
The engineering department has created a website with updates on all the work at augustadtp.com; and the landscaping portion of the plans will be posted there at some point.