University to Replace Newcomb Road’s Catalpa Trees With the Next Generation

computer illustration of Newcomb road turning into a pedestrian-friendly walkway

Newcomb Road is being re-envisioned as a more pedestrian-friendly roadway with new trees. (Illustration by Wolf Josey Landscape Architects)

The walk along Upper Newcomb Road will soon look different, as the University of Virginia plans to replace aging catalpa trees and improve the pedestrian experience.

The trees along Newcomb Road have exceeded the average life expectancy for catalpa trees, and the University is proactively removing them to plant the next generation of trees to continue to shade future generations of students.

“The trees are showing the effects of their age and injuries they suffered from driving mishaps, being so close to the busy Newcomb road,” said Richard Hopkins, associate director of Grounds and landscape supervisor. “I’m not sure exactly when the trees were planted, but my guess is they were put in with the Brown College construction, which puts them just shy of 100 years old. These trees have done very well to get here.”

The trees being removed are of the northern catalpa variety, and Hopkins said while the issue was still being studied, he thinks a mix of northern and southern catalpas will be planted there to match what landscapers have planted across McCormick Road along Cabell Drive.

As part of the tree replacement project, Newcomb Road is being re-envisioned. Wolf Josey Landscape Architects of Charlottesville have developed a conceptual plan.

“There has been a desire for some time to change and improve the pedestrian experience along Upper Newcomb Road” (from Newcomb Plaza to McCormick Road), Hopkins said. “A study is just now kicking off to determine exactly how we’ll change the primary use of the road from vehicular access to pedestrian. The students walk in the road anyhow, so the idea is merely formalizing how the students want to use the space.”

The first phase of removals will happen starting the Monday after Thanksgiving break. A group of about seven to nine trees and stumps will be removed to provide the access to start a utility project. The remainder of the removals will happen over the winter break when the work will not disrupt pedestrian access along the road.

Hopkins does not expect that there will be useful wood from the trees because of their age and condition.

“These trees are all hollow so I’m not expecting there to be any salvageable wood in them,” Hopkins said. “We will set aside any solid logs if we happen to find any so we will have an opportunity to mill them.”

The University is taking advantage of the tree replacement timetable to install new utility lines along Newcomb Road. The West Grounds Chilled Water project is a 12-month project to install new chilled water lines that will connect the Central Grounds and McCormick Road chilled water loops, each serving a number of buildings within their districts of Grounds.

“The connection of the two loops will provide both redundancy and increased efficiency that will allow us to meet the increasing demands of the growing campus,” said Chris Pouncey, senior project manager of capital construction and renovations at Facilities Management. “The project runs north from Cabell Drive in front of Kerchof Hall all the way along Newcomb Road, where we terminate between Newcomb Hall and the Central Grounds Parking Garage.”

The lines being installed require extensive excavation. “Removing the trees will create space to allow for a temporary sidewalk on Newcomb Road,” Pouncey said. “This is needed due to the width of the trench required to install pipe of this size.”

The utility project also will cross Emmet Street in the spring, which will require specific traffic handling.

“When we make the crossing of Emmet Street, there will definitely be an impact to traffic for a couple of weeks,” Pouncey said. “We will probably be down to single lane with flag operators for some period of time. This work would likely be done at night to minimize the impact.

“There will also be impacts to both vehicles and pedestrians on Newcomb Road. Certain locations along Newcomb Road may need to be accessed from University Avenue, as opposed to McCormick Road, during some segments of the work.”

The utility project is expected to conclude in August, prior to the start of fall term.

Hopkins said the trees should be replaced within 18 months.

“If, and it is a big ‘if,’ the study can determine where the line of trees can be planted and not be impacted by the construction of the ‘new’ Newcomb Road, then there is an outside chance that we could install the new trees this spring,” Hopkins said. “There is a lot that must come together for that to happen. The biggest issue is finding whatever species of tree is selected in a nursery that can be dug and delivered during the planting season. This is a real longshot, so I really think we’ll have to wait for the spring of 2023 to install the new trees.” 

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Matt Kelly

Office of University Communications