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NY budget cuts end landscaping of LI roads

New York State Department of Transportation workers plant

New York State Department of Transportation workers plant shrubs on the median of the Sagtikos Parkway in Kings Park. (Sept. 24, 2012) Credit: Ed Betz

The state is ending major landscape projects on its Long Island roads for the next five years as the Department of Transportation tightens its budget.

A $1.9-million project under way to landscape and beautify several roads, including Sunken Meadow Parkway and the Long Island Expressway, is the last, state transportation officials said.

"This is the last exclusive landscape project of its kind for the foreseeable future," state DOT spokeswoman Eileen Peters said. "Our No. 1 priority now is to preserve Long Island's roads and bridges and keep them safe."

Routine tree-trimming, plantings and invasive-species removal will continue as DOT maintenance crews' time and budgets allow, but planting pear trees and pulling out poison ivy have fallen victim to the state's budget struggles.

State budget director Robert Megna instructed all department heads last week to aim for no increases in their operating budgets for the next two fiscal years. While Megna's directive does not include capital projects, there is no allocation for specific landscaping projects in the DOT's capital program for the next five years, Peters said.

The largest part of the current project involves $200,000 for new plantings on portions of the median and at exits along Sunken Meadow Parkway between Route 25 and Pulaski Road.

A combination of evergreen and flowering trees and shrubs -- including Kwanzan cherry, pear, pines, crepe myrtles, ninebark bayberry and flowering elderberry -- are being planted to enhance safety and "provide an aesthetically improved environment," according to the DOT.

The shrubbery and trees will reduce headlight glare for motorists and cut down on the agency's mowing and upkeep costs, as well as help restore and beautify the area, Peters said.

As part of the project -- the first such work on the Sunken Meadow Parkway in 20 years -- invasive species and trees that have grown within 30 feet of the roadway are being removed.

"It's a nice attractive look as you enter Kings Park," Sean Lehmann, president of the Kings Park Civic Association said Wednesday. "We're grateful to the state DOT for providing this for our community."

The project also covers work at another 24 locations that includes removing trees damaged by Tropical Storm Irene and taking out trees considered dangerously rotted and hazardous to drivers. Much of the work -- such as tree planting along Middle Country Road in Centereach -- is in response to requests from the public or elected officials, Peters said.

On a portion of the Long Island Expressway in western Nassau, new plantings will replace perennials that died for unknown reasons this year and invasive species will be removed.

Peters said the transportation department will continue landscape improvements as part of major road construction projects, such as those on routes 135, 347 and 110.

Keeping the "park" in parkways is important, said Alexandra Wolfe, preservation services director for the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities.

"Robert Moses always intended that the recreational experience begins with the parkways," Wolfe said. "These were projects that represent the best of what government can do -- they began in the early 20th century, continued through the Great Depression and endure today as one of the best public works investments that all people can enjoy."

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