As many as 23 Main Street trees on the chopping block in Warren

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 4/17/24

RIDOT is looking to repave about a mile of Rt. 114 in Warren, along with making sidewalk repairs along that stretch. The catch? They'll likely have to take down nearly two dozen established trees to do so.

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As many as 23 Main Street trees on the chopping block in Warren


A plan from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) to repave a little over a mile of Warren’s southern portion of Main Street (and to fix the many areas of uprooted, crumbling, or missing altogether sidewalks), comes with a catch that is likely to upset tree-loving Warrenites.

Reporting to the Town Council during their April 9 meeting, DPW Director Brian Wheeler presented the most recent information on the preliminary phase of DOT’s plan, which is part of its statewide road maintenance schedule and involves repaving Route 114 (Main Street), from Wheaton Street to the Town Line with Bristol, and includes spot curb repairs, drainage improvements, and a street signal replacement at the intersection of Campbell Street.

“Everybody, I think, understands the conditions that we have right now on the sidewalks,” Wheeler said at the meeting, adding later that, “We get about 150 complaints a year in this area from the sidewalks. They’re not ADA-accessible, they’re barely even passable when just walking on them.”

But most likely to cause controversy as the project continues into its final design phase is the root cause of much of that sidewalk disruption — trees; big ones, established ones, and (in at least one case), allegedly historic ones.

Wheeler said that the worst conditions for sidewalks was mostly south of Dyer Street to the Town line on the eastern side of the road.

“The eastern part of Main Street is the hot topic side,” he said. “It’s the side that’s not ADA-accessible and has the most number of trees uprooting the sidewalk currently.”

“That side they have roughly identified 23 trees at the moment that might need to be removed and replaced.”

Asked if Wheeler had attempted to persuade DOT to go another direction, Wheeler said he asked the agency if it was possible to bypass trees by putting some sections of sidewalk into the breakdown lanes along the route. They reportedly indicated this approach would cause significant project delays and cost significantly more money. Ultimately, they ruled it to not be an option at all.

“They are well aware of the tree concerns. It came down to if we’re going to do this project and have ADA-accessible sidewalks, this is what has to happen,” he said. “It was not a question of what was going to happen, it was either going to be this, or they were going to pull the project.”

Wheeler said in a phone interview on Tuesday morning that despite their hard stance against moving the project area into the breakdown lane to avoid cutting a large number of trees, he still believed DOT was open to more discussions moving forward about possible compromises if certain trees are found to be particularly important to residents in the Town. But he also emphasized that the problems being addressed by the project shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“We understand there are going to have to be some cuts. You cannot walk down that street without seeing the issues,” he said. “I think they’re willing to work with us, it’s just going to take some time and some conversations.”

Wheeler said that DOT asked to work with the Warren Tree Commission to help identify good replacement trees for the area that wouldn’t cause future harm to the sidewalks, but that replacements would not be planted for at least 18 months during the construction period.

According to the project timelines, the plan is entering the final design and right-of-way phase, which will persist until February of 2025. In March of next year, bids will go out for construction. In June of 2025, they hope for work to begin, with a portion of the Franklin Street Park n’ Ride used for staging. The estimated date of completion is June of 2027.

A tree with historic roots
This reporter took a walk south along the east side of Main Street on Monday afternoon, beginning near the intersection of Main Street and Coomer Avenue. After taking a photo of a portion of sidewalk that had been totally destroyed by subterranean roots, a woman approached and kindly inquired what the interest in the area was.

Upon receiving an explanation of this story, she introduced herself as Michelle Murray, a member of the Warren Tree Commission. She pointed out her frustration with what was known of DOT’s plan thus far, and lamented their apparent disinterest to find a creative way to spare trees that have called that section of Town home for hundreds of years.

“That one there in front of the gray house came over with Commodore Perry,” she said, pointing to a large Styphnolobium japonicum (also known as a Chinese scholar tree). If that lineage is indeed true, the tree would be at least 150 years old.

“I think it’s dreadful,” she added on a phone call Tuesday morning. “I’ve examined a lot of the sidewalks in that area and it seems they’re not good, but they’re not as bad as to require a wholesale chopping of everything down. It would probably be inconvenient to work between the trees, but I can’t imagine it would be impossible to do so.”

2024 by East Bay Media Group

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.