Glendale residents near the Golden State (5) Freeway at Western Avenue were dismayed this week to see dozens of 30-foot-tall trees ripped out to make room for carpool lanes.
Jocelyn Perez, who lives 50 feet from the southbound ramp on Justin Avenue, said she and her neighbors had no idea the trees were scheduled for removal.
"It is really bad on my side," Perez said. "My son has asthma. I barely take him outside."
California Department of Transportation officials said that the project has been in the works for years, and that it went through all the appropriate environmental review requirements. The project, including replacement landscaping, is scheduled to be completed in summer 2014.
The activity is part of a larger project undertaken by Caltrans to expand the freeway to accommodate new carpool lanes in both directions between the Ventura (134) Freeway and Route 14, said Caltrans spokeswoman Kelly Markham.
Several on-ramps and off-ramps in Los Angeles, Glendale and Burbank are being reconfigured, including the Western Avenue ramps.
A Caltrans environmental assessment published in 2000 — and still available on the Caltrans website — states that the project will have no significant negative impact.
The removal of the trees struck a chord with parents at Franklin Elementary School, which is one block southwest of the Western Avenue freeway ramp. The school's dual-language programs attract families from throughout Glendale, as well as from other cities.
The trees protected the neighborhood and the school from the view and the noise of the freeway, said Nikola Schaefers, whose daughter is enrolled in Franklin's German-language program.
"One day they are there, the next day they are gone," Schaefers said of the trees. "We would have loved to have a chance to get in on it earlier and maybe out of our own resources have some trees transplanted."
Franklin families recently collaborated with the nonprofit organization Tree People to plant multiple trees on the campus perimeter along Justin Avenue, parents said. Seeing the landscaping along the freeway ripped out feels like a step backward, they said.
"Every tree counts," said Franklin parent Bernhard Mueller.
In an email addressed to several Glendale officials, Franklin parent Judy Reilly Brousseau said the removal of the landscaping directly contradicts the city's efforts to go green. It is also hurts the overall aesthetic of the neighborhood, she added.
"Two homes recently went up for sale that are directly affected by this," Brousseau said. "They woke up to find their wall of leafy green was stripped away, revealing the ugly and dirty interchange. That is a real economic blow. The homes were already a tough sell, and now the one saving grace they had has been stripped away."
Once the expansion of the freeway is complete, Caltrans will landscape the new embankment, Markham said.
"In some cases, if possible, we actually replant the trees themselves," Markham said.
In this case, the trees are non-native and will be disposed, Markham said. They will be replaced with native species, including California Pepper trees and Boston Ivy.