How to adorn Robert Street with trees continues to be a topic of intense conversation at West St. Paul City Hall, and some council members said they intend to look at the location of each tree before approving a final planting plan.

Members of the public will soon be invited to react to the plans. City officials are selecting dates for those sessions.

To have the time to think carefully about how many trees to plant and precisely where to plant them, the council earlier this year separated the landscaping from the construction project to keep the road work on schedule.

The $22 million reconstruction of 2 ½ miles of Robert, which is West St. Paul's main street, is scheduled to begin this year and will take three years. Trees, sidewalks and lighting will be added under a separate contract once the council settles on a plan. The city has not finalized financing for the road work and is hoping the Minnesota Department of Transportation will pick up most of the cost of the project in exchange for the city taking over future ownership and maintenance of Robert.

Tree expenditures would be in addition to money spent on construction, and the city is considering a tree plan that would cost about $3.6 million. That reflects a mixed approach that puts trees in two locations: close to the street or back from the street behind the sidewalk. The city is considering a mixed approach because it costs less than a single, uniform tree-planting plan, said City Manager Matt Fulton.

Trees planted in uniform rows close to the street would add the most warmth and appeal to Robert, council members have generally agreed. But that approach would cost an estimated $5.6 million, or about $3,000 for each tree.

The opposite approach — planting all of the trees back from the road and just beyond the sidewalk — would cost $1.3 million, or about $700 a tree. But that approach would not give Robert as much character.

Consulting engineer Dave Hutton of SRF, who acts at the project's manager, said that in certain locations there are barriers, including walls, hills and space limitations that make it too costly to plant trees next to the street. The mixed approach reflects that, he said.

The $3.6 million plan would mix the two approaches and use them each several blocks at a time as ease of planting dictates, Hutton said.

The proposal, which has not been approved, calls for planting trees close to the street from Annapolis Street south to Stanley Street. From Stanley south to Thompson Avenue, the trees would be planted back from the street beyond the sidewalk. From Thompson south to Lothenbach, the trees would switch back to close to the street, and from Lothenbach south to Mendota Road, the trees would be planted behind the sidewalk.

This is the proposal council members plan to study further. It would bring 263 trees to the newly rebuilt four-lane divided road. Where there is space, the road will also have center island landscaping.