Tollway hugging trees, wants to plant 58,000

The Illinois tollway plans to turf its ho-hum grassy landscapes with an influx of 58,000 trees.

This year about 3,000 trees and 6,000 shrubs will be planted in an effort to improve the environment.

The agency will focus on interchanges and is already working with the Morton Arboretum to decide what type of trees will grow and adapt to conditions along busy interstates.

"I love the idea and I want to see it be as successful as possible," tollway Director and Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson said at a meeting Thursday. Drawing on experience in Elk Grove Village replacing ash trees killed by the emerald ash borer, he advised staff planners to invest in mature saplings.

Planting immature trees means "the chances of survival aren't great," and it will take years before the type of tree canopy the agency is envisioning emerges, Johnson said.

Tollway Chairman Bob Schillerstrom noted the arboretum has found about 200 species that can survive in tough environments.

Trees in the program include oaks, elms, buckeyes, locusts, spruces, pines and Kentucky coffee trees, as well as shrubs including lilacs and viburnums.

Officials could not yet say how much the program will cost.

"The tollway is working with the Morton Arboretum to develop a landscape master plan that will identify budget needs for buying and maintaining the trees, shrubs and native vegetation that will be planted," spokesman Dan Rozek said.

"We're confident the initiative to establish and maintain a healthy urban forest and more natural landscape along the tollway system will be cost-effective and affordable."

The agency chose 58,000 trees to represent the 58 years since the first toll roads opened.

The tollway will be handing out tree seedlings at its headquarters in Downers Grove and at oases on Arbor Day, April 29.

Arboretum scientists have studied the impact of road salt and other negative factors affecting trees in an outdoor laboratory on the Eisenhower Expressway near Cicero Avenue for some years.

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