Landscape Master Plan

The Illinois Tollway is an integral part of the transportation network in Northern Illinois, crossing urban, suburban and rural landscapes.  The Landscape Master Plan was developed with the goal of establishing and maintaining healthy tree communities throughout the Tollway’s 294-miles, 5 corridors and 12 counties.  

The overall approach for the Master Plan was to identify potential planting locations throughout the Tollway system in an effort to create and enhance urban forests and improve local habitats. Once identified, planting trees and shrubs at strategic locations that complements the Tollway’s environmental programs and existing initiatives helps solidify a long-term environmental commitment throughout the system.  In partnership with The Morton Arboretum, this Master Plan leverages existing efforts in creating and nurturing current and future tree communities in the region.


Within The Morton Arboretum, the Center for Tree Science (CTS) and the Chicago Region Trees Initiative (CRTI) have been focused on increasing the region’s tree canopy.  The Tollway has partnered with these groups to develop and implement a comprehensive program that advances the region’s tree canopy across the Tollway’s landscape. 

Through coordinated testing, tracking and careful monitoring, the Tollway will provide an opportunity to track data on soil conditions, plant species and other key elements related to planting along a roadway. Initially, the Tollway will plant trees in four experimental sites in collaboration with The Morton Arboretum.

The Arboretum is a world-renowned leader in tree science and is a significant contributor in the development of recommended soil amendments and tree planting techniques.  Their guidance on current best practices in tree planting and survivability provides significant value and is incorporated in the Plan’s planting recommendations and contracts.  


Project Objectives

The following primary project objectives were identified:

  • Identify suitable locations for planting trees within the Tollway system 
  • Update tree and shrub planting standards and specifications, based on recommendations provided by The Morton Arboretum 
  • Develop experimental approaches to planting that could test new ideas for tree installation and care in stressful roadway conditions 
  • Develop maintenance programs to better ensure the long-term viability of future planting efforts 
  • Evaluate and develop a diverse list of plant species and material suitable for high speed roadways 
  • Install 58,000 trees with the intent of increasing regional tree canopy coverage 
  • Identify viable living snow fence locations 
  • Maintain consistency with roadway policies and guidelines 
  • Collaborate on available and preferred tree and plant alternatives
  • Evaluate and recommend planting options



In collaboration with The Morton Arboretum, experimental tree planting areas will be installed and monitored at selected sites to assess the impact of soil preparation, tree species composition and soil moisture on overall tree health and growth along the Tollway. The results from this work will provide data-driven insight into the cost-benefit analysis of optimal tree planting strategies within the Tollway system. This will guide tree planting strategies for future Tollway landscape projects, and knowledge gained can be shared with other transportation agencies to assist with successful planting strategies throughout Illinois and the Midwest region and beyond.

Research areas will rigorously examine the effects of different tree species mixtures, soil treatments, maintenance and pruning practices. The results of this work will influence future data-driven revisions of the Tollway Standard Specifications to gain the most environmental benefits in tree growth, health, diversity and the ecosystem. 



Short, mid-term and ongoing maintenance is essential to the survival of the 58,000 trees and shrubs to be planted as part of this initiative. Considerable attention will be given to tree care and critical watering during the first two to three years after planting to increase success. Maintenance, which would include bracing, watering, pruning, weed control, pesticide treatment and mulching, will be a major cost component of the overall project. 


Project Timing

A three-year schedule has been developed for the Landscape Master Plan to provide enough time for planting activities and data collection. The schedule also provides resources for administration and procurement from regional suppliers. 

Each year’s planting goal is approximately 19,400 trees and could include the planting of 18,000 shrubs for live snow fences.


Planting Locations

General locations identified for tree and shrub installation include interchanges, sections of mainline right-of-way and Tollway facilities.