More progress is being made on one of Madison's largest infrastructure projects in its history. A multi-year, multi-phase water project affecting several parts of the city started in 2020 and includes substantial underground piping as well as a new water tower.

A portion of the project affects N. Summit and N. Prairie avenues. In some places, the water main beneath the boulevard next to the street is being replaced with new pipe. In other parts, the service line going from the main to the residence is affected. The boulevard area -- typically between the street and sidewalk -- legally belongs to the city, yet must be maintained (mowing, snow removal) by the adjacent property owner.

Unfortunately, a number of mature, healthy trees have been removed from the boulevards on Summit and Prairie avenues, which dramatically affects the look of the neighborhood. Most homeowners we've talked with are unhappy.

Madison's ordinance doesn't prohibit trees in boulevards; it just states that no person shall plant or set out any tree or plant in public right-of-way without first filing an application and procuring a permit from the park superintendent. We would guess that very few homeowners know this, although we see increased use of the "utility marketing" service when people are preparing to plant trees.

The permitting process allows the Parks Department to limit the type of tree, create appropriate spacing, make sure it is a safe location for traffic and avoid plantings over infrastructure where the roots would be an issue. Regardless, the city has the right to remove trees in the boulevard when utility work needs to be done, even if it was permitted years or decades ago.

When designing the utility projects, city staff work to avoid having to cut down trees, and parts of this project were changed to prevent losing trees. But sometimes it is unavoidable.

Here's our suggested solution: Even though the city of Madison doesn't legally need to, it should replace each mature tree taken down with a mature tree replacement elsewhere on the homeowner's property. It shouldn't be a little tree, but something that looks nice and could be placed where the homeowner would like, subject to other rules such as other underground utilities and overhang.

Trees could come from either other city-owned property or from a commercial tree nursery. The cost could be as little as the transplanting itself or as much as cost of the tree and transplanting.

The city's large water project costs in excess of $20 million. We think the cost of this tree replacement would be very small as a portion of the overall project. It would help property owners who lose shade, and it could be an excellent goodwill gesture from the city.

-- Jon M. Hunter