Lynch, with Richards, at their home: 'We just want to save the trees.'
Dennis Lynch knows what some people will say - that he's a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). He has two defenses: First, the thing he's against is not in his backyard, it's in his front yard; and second, the proposed widening of Monona Drive will harm his entire neighborhood.
"Monona near the Beltline looks like a military base," says Lynch, who lives on Monona Drive by Buckeye Road. "We're concerned that they have that vision for us."
Lynch and other neighbors feel blindsided by the project's impact. The road expansion will take a bite out of many private properties and remove more than two dozen trees. This includes the healthy, 34-inch diameter silver maple in front of the home where Lynch lives with his wife, Marty Richards. "We just want to save the tree," he says.
This phase of the $25 million road project is not slated to begin until 2012, but the project is up for city of Madison approvals in the next several weeks, including a meeting this Wednesday before the Board of Public Works. The city of Monona, on the opposite side of Monona Drive, has already signed off on the plan.
Funding comes from the federal, state and city level, including Madison and Monona. The use of federal funds requires that specific building guidelines be followed for the planned addition of two bike lanes and continuous sidewalks on both sides. But this means the project will encroach onto neighbors' terraces and front yards.
Diane Goetz, who owns Madison Craft & Gift Shop on Monona Drive and lives a few blocks down the street, calls the plan "disastrous" to the property owners and trees.
"I think it's absolutely horrible that we have to lose trees to improve the road," she says. "I think there could have been ways to do it with saving the trees."
"The part that's really tough to swallow is they're only taking land from the Madison side," adds Kay Drew, who lives on the 4100 block of Monona Drive. "It's just odd that they are taking Madison property instead of Monona property."
Ald. Larry Palm, who represents the project's Madison neighbors, had city staffers take an inventory of the 27 trees in the corridor that could possibly be taken down. They range from a five-inch-diameter ash on the north end to the massive maple that stands in front of Lynch's home.
"Residents have raised some very valid and immediate concerns," he says. "We'll work on plans to save as many trees as possible."
The Monona Drive widening has been in the works for years. The cities of Madison and Monona, as well as Dane County, have long looked for funding opportunities. About half of the money for the current plan comes from the Federal Surface Transportation Program and Highway Safety Improvement Plan.
Both Madison engineer Christy Bachmann and Monona engineer Richard Vela agree the existing road has outlived its life expectancy by about 10 years. The last time it was reconstructed was 1967.
"There will be numerous safety improvements," Vela says. "We'll try to solve some problems in the commercial areas with left-turning vehicles that cause accidents and clog up the existing inside lanes."
In a 2006 report, the city of Monona calculated the crash rate on Monona Drive at "three times the state average for an urban roadway." There is an especially high incidence of rear-end crashes involving vehicles waiting to turn left off the narrow road.
Phase one of the project, which was entirely in Monona, broke ground last year and stretches from Broadway to Pflaum Road. It was also contentious among Monona residents concerned about trees. Monona officials say 175 trees will be replaced or transplanted and 245 new ones planted.
The second phase will run from to Winnequah Road to Cottage Grove Road. It will add a median and turn pockets, as well as a designated bike path and continuous sidewalks. The final phase will complete the gap between Pflaum Road and Winnequah Road.
Recently the city sent homeowners including Lynch a packet of information, identifying which trees would be cut and what trees would be planted to replace them. Lynch's silver maple is the largest earmarked for removal; the city says it will be replaced with a Cleveland Select Pear tree.
Lynch is not consoled, saying a city forester indicated that his tree could be preserved. Bachmann says any tree in the right-of-way will have to come down.
"Our city forester took a look and came up with the list of 27 trees," she says. "He did identify two trees as private, which we'll try to save."
Lynch's tree is not one of these two.
Much of the Monona Drive project has already been decided, notes Palm, but Madison can still tweak the plans. One option under consideration would reduce the impact on homes by opting for a wider terrace, allowing more trees to be saved.
"I'm in a very difficult position," says Ald. Palm. "I agree the road is in really poor condition, and I support bike paths and pedestrian enhancements. But there is this strange eight-foot-wide path on the Monona side that is pushing the road and those addition amenities further toward the Madison side."
Bachmann, for her part, would like to resolve neighbor concerns before construction begins. She held meetings with a few concerned neighbors last month and says there's still time for people to weigh in.
"That's exactly why we go to committee and they can have their say," she says. "Sometimes the board has asked us to reconsider. It's not a done deal."
Bachmann says the project faces another year of land acquisition, since it sits several feet into the residents' yards. The city will purchase any land it needs for the right-of-way.
But money wouldn't compensate neighbors like Lynch for what they feel they stand to lose. "It makes us very nervous since they'll be taking away 10 more feet of our yard," he says.
Goetz thinks the project unfairly encroaches on businesses and private households: "Had they just repaved Monona Drive, you still would have that nice drive, but it wouldn't have taken property from the business or the trees."