Funds raised to help move heritage tree out of construction zone

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s Oak Hill neighborhood is known for its endless traffic jams. But fixing those mean uprooting some longtime inhabitants.

GOING IN-DEPTH // Heritage Trees

The be classified as a heritage tree, it must:

  • Have a trunk diameter of 24 inches or more.
  • It must be one of 10 species listed by city.
  • That list includes certain Walnut and Elm trees, Pecan trees, and all species of Oak.

Currently there is an effort underway to find one old oak tree a new home.

“Traffic is ridiculous,” said Jimmy Gandhi. He picked the corner near William Cannon Drive and US Highway 290 to open his tobacco shop because of all the people that drive by. “I will find a way to get around Oak Hill if I have to avoid that traffic…it’s insane.”

In order to alleviate that traffic, the Texas Department of Transportation needs to expand Highway 290. But standing in the way is a 125-year-old heritage oak tree.

“Austin is one of those cities that’s environmentally friendly, healthiness, and what not,” Gandhi said. “I feel that saving that tree goes with the Austin culture and also helping our planet out.”

The so-called Taco Bell Tree got it’s name from a sitting at the corner of a lot where a Taco Bell used to be. It stands 25 feet tall and is 31.5 inches wide. Moving it will be no easy task.

So far The Austin Tree Heritage Foundation raised $20,000 towards the moving costs, but they’re still $5,000 short.

Gandhi even donated towards the cause in the hopes the Taco Bell Tree will live on.

“That makes me feel very pleased that it’s not just getting tossed somewhere…it’s getting put to a place where people will actually hang out. People will see the tree too, so that makes it even better.”

He says saving a tree is the ultimate Austin way of doing business.

If the remaining money can be raised, the tree will be moved 500 feet away where it will join other oak trees and be protected from future developments. If the tree has to stay in its current location, TxDOT plans to protect it with barriers and guard rails.

City rules prohibit people from cutting down a heritage tree, but there are a few exceptions. The city can grant a permit to either move or cut the tree down, or, if the tree is damaged in a storm and poses an immediate hazard the city will allow it to be cut down.

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