Federal officials have given Toledo the go-ahead to proceed with rebuilding part of Collingwood Boulevard, including the removal of 72 curbside trees that have been the subject of months of neighborhood controversy.
In a letter Thursday to the Ohio Department of Transportation, Laura S. Leffler, a division administrator with the Federal Highway Administration, said her agency had confirmed its earlier determination that the trees’ removal will have “no adverse effect” on the Old West End neighborhood.
That finding conflicts with a recommendation issued in late March by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which said cutting down the 72 trees would harm the neighborhood’s character by removing the trees’ canopy for at least several decades until replacement trees the city has promised to plant after construction mature.
Doug Hecox, a highway administration spokesman, said Friday his agency had considered the tree-removal impact on a neighborhoodwide basis, not just its effect on the stretch of Collingwood between Jefferson and Islington avenues where the affected trees are.
“Replacing trees along one street in a project area spanning 20 streets over a half-mile was found not to sufficiently alter the historic character of the area,” Mr. Hecox said.
“All along, we’ve believed this is a really critical and important project, and we’re glad we can move forward with it,” said David Dysard, planning administrator with the city Division of Engineering Services.
Bid advertising for a construction contractor will start today, Mr. Dysard said.
The project, expected to cost $3.4 million, includes replacing a failure-prone, 140-year-old water main, followed by complete reconstruction of the four-lane street.
City officials have maintained the 72 trees — mostly honey locusts planted half a century ago after Dutch elm disease killed their predecessors — will be so weakened by root damage from the construction that it is safer to remove them and plant replacements afterward.
City plans call for 89 trees, of a variety of species, to be planted on the off-street side of rebuilt sidewalks along the affected portion of Collingwood.
The Blade counted 17 tree stumps on the east side of the street that were cut down during a week or two before the highway administration ordered work halted in early February, saying the necessary historic-preservation review was incomplete.
No schedule has been set to remove the remaining trees, Mr. Dysard said.
David Neuendorff, a Scottwood Avenue resident whose complaints about the project have been at the fore of criticism, wrote in response to the highway administration’s finding that he still believes the historic preservation process has been subverted.
“I ask that the Order to Resume Work be delayed until a review of the Concurrence Letters, their issuance, signed documentation, revision and reissue date, notification of parties, timelines and objections filed is reconsidered anew from the documentation,” Mr. Neuendorff wrote Thursday.
He accused city officials of deliberately submitting outdated traffic counts to state and federal authorities reviewing the project. Exaggerating the traffic on Collingwood in order to get federal money for the street’s reconstruction, he said, is only part of a fraud about which he has filed a complaint with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“The parties claim ... no ‘adverse effects’ [have] occurred after creating many fraudulent written documents and statements. There is ample evidence of fraudulent statements and a lack of ‘due diligence’ within the written documentation,” he wrote in a letter to the FBI dated Feb. 10.
Mr. Dysard responded Friday that the traffic counts are public records and there is nothing wrong with them.
“We are pleased to share our numbers with anybody that wants to see them,” he said.
Mr. Neuendorff contends that rebuilding Collingwood as a four-lane street south of Islington Avenue is unnecessary because of insufficient traffic, and that a narrower reconstruction could avoid fatal harm to the trees.
The city plans to reconfigure the current four lanes north of Islington to two lanes plus parking and a median, but maintains that four lanes are needed south of Islington because of truck deliveries to businesses along that stretch that sometimes block the curb lane.
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