LAND O'LAKES — At least twice a day Douglas McDowell enjoyed driving along the tree-lined portion of U.S. 41 near State Road 54.
The 30-year Pasco resident likened the experience to driving in France or Italy.
Well, his European excursion is over.
Last week Pasco County Public Works crews chopped down live oaks and crape myrtle trees that were planted 10 years ago when the road was expanded. The trees cost $129,000 at the time.
"It's just really poor timing with all the talk about climate control, and to cut down trees is almost unpatriotic," said McDowell, 66. "And it's certainly ugly."
The Florida Department of Transportation routinely makes agreements with cities and counties to maintain median trees after the state completes road work. But according to DOT officials, Pasco County recently declined to keep the trees because of the budget needed to maintain them.
DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said the county planned to "salvage" the 45 live oaks and 20 crape myrtle trees.
"We are glad the county is going to find a new home" for those trees, Carson said. "We have been told that they are going to plant them elsewhere."
Bipin Parikh, Pasco's assistant county administrator, said some of the trees were removed to plant elsewhere. Others were left alone.
"I think they started taking the trees down," Parikh said. "People were upset and we said let's just not remove any tree."
Parikh said the cost to maintain the trees is $9,600 a year and that the county has maintained those medians and others along U.S. 41 for years.
"We have some agreement, they wanted us to renew for the maintenance forever and the county was not willing to do that," Parikh said.
He said DOT officials told the county to remove the trees or they would.
Erick Smith, an urban forestry expert at the University of Florida, said it is labor intensive to remove decade-old trees and then care for them to become established in another area.
"The fact that they were 10 years old is really unfortunate," he said. "That first seven years is the hardest time to make it. By the time they are 10 years old they are established."
Smith also said trees in medians are important for aesthetic appeal to break up the roadway and also to shade the asphalt and improve air quality.
He said trees that old would need to be trimmed every three to five years.
"In the big scheme of things they are totally going against where everybody else is going," Smith said. "People all across Florida are planting trees in medians and doing their best to not cut them down. So the fact that these folks are saying that they can't maintain them, that just seems really unfortunate."
The removal just does not make sense to some.
"There's just no justification, let's face it," McDowell said. "And I'm sorry they were so efficient in doing it. It was quite an investment in time, and we've lost that."