Trees along northern Michigan roadways are an important part of the scenery, particularly in the autumn.
But when they’re too close to the roadside they can be a maintenance challenge or, a potentially larger concern, a safety hazard.
When a vehicle leaves the roadway, for whatever reason, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) strives to reduce the likelihood it will strike a fixed object.
A project starting this week along I-75 just south of Indian River is designed to reduce the chance of drivers hitting trees on the roadside and reduce maintenance costs.
Under a $14,000 contract with MDOT, Points North Tree Service will be harvesting trees from the roadsides and median along 3,200 feet of I-75 just south of Exit 310, clearing 50 feet from the edge of the roadway as well as some selective cutting to the edge of MDOT right of way.
Work began Sept. 17 and is expected to be completed before Nov. 15.
On northern lower Michigan freeways, there were 1,140 fixed-object crashes from 2013 to 2017, resulting in nine deaths and 31 serious injuries.
While vehicles often hit other fixed objects – such as guardrails, sign posts and fences – 63 percent of those severe fixed-object crashes involve trees.
“Unlike a sign post, a tree is not forgiving in a crash,” said MDOT North Region Operations Engineer Garrett Dawe. “By removing these trees close to the roadway, we reduce the chances that a vehicle will hit one if it leaves the road, potentially reducing the number of these serious crashes.”
This work is part of MDOT’s North Region Toward Zero Deaths initiative, a multi-faceted approach to reducing fatal crashes on roadways.
Removing the trees further back also helps reduce shadows on the roadway, which can improve driving conditions by allowing the sun to melt more snow and ice during winter months.
Some trees will remain on both sides of the road and in the median, helping to block wind and keep snow from blowing and drifting on the roadway.
When trees die along freeways, maintenance crews will go out and cut them on a case-by-case basis or clean up trees that have already fallen.
This project is expected to reduce the potential for trees to fall into the roadway and reduce the number of trees that will need to be removed in future years.
“We expect that by clearing the roadside all at once, we’ll save money overall by avoiding sending maintenance crews to clear individual trees that have fallen or are in danger of falling,” said MDOT Gaylord Transportation Service Center (TSC) Operations Engineer Matt Radulski.