This past Monday, the Virginia Department of Transportation began removing 59 trees that arborists deemed safety risks to drivers in the Great Falls area.
The decision to cut down dozens of dead or unhealthy trees came after a 40-ton oak crushed a car traveling on Georgetown Pike on July 17, killing driver Albert Roeth III immediately.
Following that incident, Fairfax County and VDOT began receiving reports of other potentially dangerous trees in VDOTís right of way. The county sent out a team of five arborists to inspect trees in the area, and recommended removing dozens of them along Georgetown Pike and River Bend, Browns Mill and Beech Mill roads in Great Falls.
The work, which will take as long as three weeks and involve a number of temporary road closures,will cost about $60,000.
VDOT officials deserve credit for their timely response in Great Falls, but some drivers in other parts of Fairfax County must be wondering about the condition of aging trees in their own communities. Heavily traveled arteries such as Hunter Mill Road in Vienna and West Ox Road in Chantilly have seen their share of fallen trees in recent years. The same goes for Lewinsville Road in McLean and Guinea Road in Burke.
According to VDOT spokeswoman Joan Morris, VDOT does not have a comprehensive tree inspection program. At the moment, the agency has one full-time arborist for the Northern Virginia region, an area that includes millions of trees in VDOTís rights of way.
Monitoring each of those trees wouldnít be an option even if VDOT had a dozen Fairfax-based arborists on staff, but they should be able to identify the regionís most problematic trees and check them at regular intervals. Tips on hazardous trees could come from a variety of sources, including VDOT maintenance crews and citizens calling a hotline.
Although last monthís incident in Great Falls cast a spotlight on falling trees, itís worth noting standing trees also are the most commonly struck objects in serious roadside crashes.
While VDOT engineers monitor trees for age and health, they should continue keeping an eye out for newly-planted trees that sit two or three feet from well-traveled secondary roads. Organizations that want to plant trees should be encouraged to do so, but only in places where they do not impede the driver's visibility and are not likely to be struck by a vehicle.
As Fairfax Countyís population grows and its road network ages, the challenge of safely getting from Point A to Point B likely will rise in coming years.
Several time-tested measures — such as adding signage, improving pavement markers and flattening curves — can help the cause.
So can viewing hazardous trees as more than a minor nuisance.