Trees and billboards: Cincinnati has answers
Dear Editor: Concerning the article on Kenosha’s Urban Forestry Survey (“City surveys region’s forestry practices,” April 2001), I compared our street tree program in Cincinnati with those in the survey and came to an interesting conclusion. Along 1,000 miles of streets, we have 85,000 trees with a budget of $1.2 million annually for their care.
Cincinnati has a population of 265,000. Since 1980, we have relied on a small professional staff and community volunteers to plan the tree work and administer contracts. All street tree work, including 24-hour emergency work, is contracted to local tree service and landscape companies. We visit every tree on a six-year cycle, pruning around 12,000, removing 1,000 (including stumps), and planting 3,000 annually. We spend $4.80 per capita and $14.12 per tree each year.
From the survey data, I calculated that one city spent a high of $25 per tree to Bismarck’s low of $14.32, slightly above ours. It seems that those cities using contractors tend to get more quality tree work done for the dollar. I’ve long believed that contracting is the perfect way to accomplish tree work; it’s been working quite well here for more than 20 years.
Concerning the article on billboards and the photo of the mutilated, destroyed trees (“Sign language,” April 2001), that kind of thing no longer happens here to city-owned trees. Cincinnati treats trees financially in the same manner as it treats all improvements, such as fire hydrants, traffic signals, streetlights, utility poles, etc.
When someone wishes to remove a tree for a road widening, new driveway, utility upgrade or billboard visibility, we establish the dollar value of the tree. After [the person wishing to remove the tree purchases it] and the check clears, we permit the removal to continue at the further expense of the person who bought the tree.
We establish tree values by using an appraisal method created by the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers that considers the tree’s size, species, condition and location. A perfect tree could be worth several thousand dollars and force a redesign of the project, while a dead or dangerous tree could be worth nothing.
The money we collect from the compensation payments is used to the penny with no administrative costs deducted to plant new trees as near to the site of the removal as possible. Thus, the total dollar value of our forest remains constant. The system has been working well since Cincinnati’s forestry program began in 1980. I would be happy to share details to anyone sending me a self-addressed, single-stamped, first-class business envelope at 705 Central Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.
— Steve Sandfort
Water network ignores public-private partnerships
Dear Editor: Mark Preston’s article, “Locals call for federal support on water bill” (April 2001), tells a good part of the story but not the whole one. There is universal agreement that there is a looming cost for replacement of our nation’s water/wastewater infrastructure. As the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN) suggests, there is a role for the federal government in providing assistance.
However, the examples of the Transportation Efficiency Act and Aviation Investment and Reform Act are poor ones. Both are based on taxes or user fees to fund a trust which provides their funding, but WIN opposes any similar revenue sourcing. With large parts of the federal surplus already committed to other areas of the budget, there isn’t as much money in the pot as first imagined. Congress is talking more along the lines of $3 billion to $5 billion a year, far from the $57 billion over five years that the WIN coalition is calling for.
So how do we address the gap between probable federal funding and the need for replacing the water/wastewater infrastructure? The answer is the greater use of private-sector resources and know-how through the use of public-private partnerships. The resulting improved efficiencies in operation and maintenance (with savings often as high as 40 percent) can provide more funding for capital investments.
Removing the cap on Private Activity Bonds will free up cost-effective private capital to help meet the demands. And uniform use of the State Revolving Funds to encourage all states to promote fuller use of the private-sector resources can provide enormous leverage to the federal funding that will be available.
The problem is real, and it needs real answers. Since the federal government cannot provide all the solutions, we should all seek ways to encourage greater use of the private sector to meet part of this genuine public need. Through shared risks and shared rewards, public-private partnerships can provide a crucial part of the answer.
— Dick Splete
Vice President of Development for U.S. Water and Chairman of the Water Institute for the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships
Investing in rail: Yeas and nays
Dear Editor: Your Editor’s Viewpoint (“Investment in rail is an idea on the right track,” April 2001) was not only to the point, but was needed since we are drowning in congestion and clean air problems. I find the road builders’ message a bit hard to take when they say, “Don’t let environmental activists take away your right to live where you want and drive when you want.” Show me where you can drive when you want when you are stuck in a traffic jam for one to four hours.
Rail will give us alternative transportation, which is not available in many parts of the United States. It will not solve the congestion problem, but it will help.
We need more people like you pushing for more rail transportation. Maybe some day we will be like Europe, where it is not necessary to own or drive a car.
— Fred Grant
Winter Park, Fla.
Dear Editor: I love your magazine. I especially look forward to your spunky editorials each month. They always give me a good jolt, like my morning coffee. But in your April editorial, I thought you took a deplorably cheap shot at a lot of good, hardworking folks at state DOTs across the nation, while casting a blind eye toward almost six decades of sprawl development that renders most passenger rail infeasible for a great majority of the nation.
The Atlanta TV ad notwithstanding (it stinks), I recognize that beating up on state DOTs is a favorite national pastime. But let’s be a little “Pogo-responsible” about this: “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.”
Do you really think that the state DOTs are going to continue laying asphalt if the national political machinery does not support it? Where is the bulk of the money coming from?
Southeastern Connecticut is home to the largest Native American gaming casino in the world (Foxwoods). Subsequent to its opening about eight years ago, there was a cry for the immediate development of a light rail system to serve the region, which comprises 250,000 people living on 550 square miles.
In a letter to the editor of a local paper, one of the leading proponents of light rail offered the following as justification for the $1 billion capital expenditure: “To get those damn [gamblers’] cars off the road, so we (the residents) can use them (the roads) like we used to.” Yes, let’s all support rail for the other guy.
— Dick Guggenheim
Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments
Dear Editor: Your viewpoint hits a major problem area: opposition [to rail] by the big industries — autos, tires and gasoline — and the help of cities and counties with a penchant for using tax revenues to build stadiums and other things that eat up funds and return no revenues. In my consulting efforts, I have been appalled by the shoddy planning functions of those mired in the special wants of high-influence groups.
My own home city has built baseball, basketball and football stadiums, all with county taxes. The local rail system, built about 15 years ago, has one line east and one west, but nothing south. And it is all within the county and does not reach the suburbs. Amtrak has one line east and one west served by a micro-miniature “Depot.” There is nothing south to the capitol. Meanwhile, thousands of cars are going east, west and south. I’m sure every big town has a similar situation.
— Russell Brannen
Bay Village, Ohio
Dear Editor: Please do not compare Europe and the United States regarding rail systems; that would be comparing apples and oranges. It should be observed that the Atlanta roadbuilders have done their homework, having correctly established that further rail in that city would solve nothing and would tie a tax anchor around the citizens’ necks.
Be careful in pushing for a 100-year-old technology. “Public Transportation and Land Use Policy,” a 1977 Indiana University study, states: “Even if a 50 percent increase in public transit use were to be attained nationwide, it would only reduce total automobile use in urban areas barely more than 1 percent.”
— Chris Ema
Institute of Transportation Engineers
Santa Ana, Calif.