The Aegis — Sections of the major highways of Harford County will be much greener in the coming years because of the State Highway Administration's two-year, $1.6 million project involving the planting of about 22,000 trees, in part, to improve local water quality.
Workers with Ashton Manor Environmental of Montgomery County began planting a variety of deciduous and evergreen species during the spring of 2014, and the project is scheduled to continue through the spring of 2016, according to Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the SHA.
"The tree plantings are part of an overall effort to help enhance water quality of highway runoff that enters the Chesapeake Bay via its tributaries," Gischlar wrote in an email.
The trees will be planted on about 88 acres throughout the county, according to Gischlar.
The Harford County tree-planting project is part of a $598.8 million, six-year statewide capital project for the SHA as the agency works to reduce runoff pollution from highways to meet Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, requirements set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Gischlar stated.
A TMDL is the limit of how much of any pollutant, such as nitrogen or phosphorus, can be discharged into a waterway from nearby infrastructure before water quality standards are affected, he explained.
Gischlar noted that the agency is overseeing the planting of more than 679,000 trees on 2,717 acres around the state, as well as the restoration of 62,513 linear feet of stream banks, the removal of 76 acres of pavement, building or upgrades to 1,780 facilities for treating stormwater and improving 13 stormwater outfalls.
In Harford County, people have seen trees being planted along Route 152 north of Connolly Road, Carrs Mill and Friendship roads in Fallston, the Hickory Bypass and Route 155 between Churchville and Havre de Grace. The state has considerable unused right-of-way along Route 152.
"They certainly have got it down to a science," said Bob Chance, a Harford County conservationist and owner of Environmental Evergreens in Darlington, who has watched the planting along the Hickory Bypass and Route 155. "They seem to do a few hundred a day."
Chance, a former Harford County Public Schools science teacher and a renowned environmentalist has been planting trees since 1968. He noted the trees will provide benefits beyond just improving water quality.
"Between improving air quality, reducing runoff, screening the highways from the surrounding development, I think there's a lot of sensibility to this planting," he said.
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Chance said the trees' effectiveness in improving water quality depends on the degree of the slope they are planted on, and their density in a particular area.
He noted the trees have been planted together tightly, about 3 to 4 feet apart, creating the effect of a "natural green screen" along the highway.
Chance said the screen blocks the sight of development, and it could improve traffic safety.
"As the forest evolves, in a few years, it's going to make people concentrate more on the road and be less distracted," he explained.
Gischlar listed multiple sections of highway in Harford County where trees have been, or will be, planted, including Route 24 between Singer Road and Route 1, along Route 543 near Church Creek Road, along Route 7 near the interchange with Route 543 in Belcamp, along Route 543 west of I-95, also in the Belcamp area, along Route 155 near the Paradise Road intersection, along Route 165 between Pylesville and the Mason-Dixon Line, Route 136 near Jones Road and along the Hickory Bypass where it intersects with Route 23.
The species of trees include white oak, Eastern red bud, holly and American sycamore, according to Gischlar. Chance said he has seen Eastern red cedars and white pines, which are also native to Maryland, being planted.
"I think the citizens should be satisfied and [not] consider it a waste of taxpayer money," Chance said.