The state is chopping down more than 250 trees to make way for the expansion of the Long Island Expressway in eastern Queens, much to the dismay of local horticulturalists.

The state Department of Transportation has started clearing the half-century old trees to build a new auxiliary lane, and entrance and exit ramps in Bayside and Oakland Gardens as part of an $83 million effort to reduce traffic congestion.

An agency spokesperson confirmed that approximately 260 trees will be felled and that the work is “well underway.” It will be complete by the end of the month. The spokesperson said more than three times as many trees and 7,620 new shrubs will replace the downed trees. But arborist Carsten Glaeser says that won’t cut it.

“You can’t replace a 60-year-old tree with a new tree,” said Glaeser, a horticulture consultant with a doctorate in philosophy and plant biology. “Large trees deliver 70 times more benefits than small, newly planted trees.”

The department would need to plant 50 new trees for every lost tree to replicate the environmental benefits of their predecessors, Glaeser estimates – a far cry from the department’s plan.

“It takes 20 years before trees can start delivering the level of benefits and services we acquire from them,” Glaeser said. “How and why does [the Department of Transportation] get a pass to remove these large trees from the public sphere and yet the public loses out in the end?”

Urban trees capture carbon, remove air pollutants and cool surrounding areas by providing shade, research shows. They save $7.8 billion annually in residential heating and cooling costs and $3.9 billion in avoided emissions, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Removing mature trees that do such an incredible job in terms of cleaning our air and helping mitigate the effects of climate change is irresponsible,” said Evie Hantzopoulos, executive director of the Queens Botanical Garden and member of Queens Community Board 1 in Astoria. “Given the climate crisis, we don’t have 60 years for those trees to reach maturity … It’s horrifying to hear this.”

Diane Park, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, said the replacement trees will “closely match” those removed, with varieties like October Glory, Red Maple, Sweet Gum and Willow Oak.

The department “will work closely with our contractor to minimize noise and other environmental impacts to the surrounding communities throughout the construction process,” Park said.

The Long Island Expressway project is part of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s $33 billion infrastructure plan announced in April. Construction crews will also replace the bridge carrying Oceania Street in Bayside over the Expressway and build a noise barrier stretching 6,500 feet to reduce traffic noise for more than 300 homes.