Keeping American roads beautiful

Dec. 28, 2000
Ask a garbage collector in Oklahoma for some Indian Paintbrush wildflower seeds

Ask a garbage collector in Oklahoma for some Indian Paintbrush wildflower seeds. He, or she, just might have a pocketful.

The public often plays dual roles.

Ask a garbage collector in Oklahoma for some Indian Paintbrush wildflower seeds

Ask a garbage collector in Oklahoma for some Indian Paintbrush wildflower seeds. He, or she, just might have a pocketful.

The public often plays dual roles. One weekend might be spent picking up stray litter on the side of a highway, while another could include a seed donation day.

Oklahoma Department of Transportation Beautification Coordinator Joanne Orr welcomes the acts of kindness. Unlike other state departments dealing with roadside vegetation, Orr can’t just write a check for a project whenever she feels like it.

"Until recently, all the seed money was donated by schools, the chamber of commerce, individuals or corporations," she told ROADS & BRIDGES. "We do have some federal dollars, but as far as a state budget for landscaping we still don’t have any line item for the purchase of trees and flowers."

Oklahoma, however, does have something to show for it all. Behind an extensive litter effort and an impressive wildflower program, the state was one of four recognized for the 1999 National Roadside Vegetation Management Association Roadside Excellence award. Weld County, Colo., the city of Winston-Salem, N.C., and Monsanto, Austin, Tex., were the other winners.

"We are working harder and doing more programs every year it seems like," said Orr. "It’s making the difference."

One can always adopt

The state of Oklahoma has a program for just about every occasion, but perhaps the one that started it all was Adopt-A-Highway. The program, where groups volunteer to clean a section of road, began in Texas in 1985 and quickly spread to the surrounding states. Oklahoma’s Adopt-A-Highway currently covers 2,200 miles.

The Sooner version of the program includes a safety film that stars "Sam the Well-Dressed Highway Man." The video opens with Sam wearing nothing but polka-dot shorts. Through a step-by-step process, he throws on the proper apparel of a highway volunteer.

"A number of states have copied it and use it as a springboard for ideas for their safety programs," said Orr. "(Adopt-A-Highway) started from the bottom up, there was no campaign. It does not get federal money anywhere . . . it has accomplished a lot."

It also has led to the birth of Adopt-A-Airport. Claiming to be the first state with such a program, Oklahoma relies on volunteers to conduct the same duties as the Adopt-A-Highway program, except it’s on or around a runway. Several airports are located in rural areas, and most lack huge maintenance forces to perform the necessary upkeep.

"There are businesses that fly in and out of communities, so airports are their front door and they want them to look good," said Orr. "The community volunteers work to make it look like people care."

The annual Trash Off is another branch of the Adopt-A-Highway program. It was the idea of several Adopt-A-Highway participants, who decided to get together and clean up one day in April.

"We put some extra publicity into it as a way of encouraging everybody to clean up," said Orr. "Pretty soon cities started calling us asking when we were going to have it."

This year, 137 communities participated in the event, 30 more than in 1999. Additionally, 30 state parks, six Corps of Engineer lakes and approximately 18 counties take part in the Trash Off. The state DOT supplies 33-gal bags and holds a contest for the most unusual piece of trash picked up on that day. "We have found a couple of pianos," noted Orr.

In June, the governor holds a picnic and distributes hubcap awards to the groups who made the most impact.

In an effort to reach the kids, a poster contest, which consists of grades kindergarten through 12th, is held every year. The DOT receives approximately 17,000 entries, with the finalists of each county advancing to state level competition. Each of the 12 state winners are awarded a t-shirt featuring their own poster design. The first-place recipient receives $250, runner-up wins $150 and the third-place finisher takes home $100. Poster calendars also are printed, and Orr said 34,000 were produced last year.

The serious side of the state’s involvement is the Litter Hotline and Trash Cop Program. With the Litter Hotline, motorists can call a toll-free number and report a littering incident. The offender is then sent a postcard reminding him or her about the clean effort of the state. Calls have been increasing annually, but poor record keeping has led to some of the postcards being issued to the wrong people.

The Trash Cop Program is most effective when illegal dumping is a problem. Under the supervision of the sheriff’s department, the gun-carrying trash cops have been a force along Oklahoma roads. Over half of the counties had trash cops at one point, but due to lack of funds the number has dwindled to 15-16.

The beauty mark of Oklahoma’s roadside maintenance is the wildflower program. The Wildflower Workshop, a one-day seminar, is now in its 23rd year and there is an intensive planting program every fall. Three drill seeders are used, and the primary native wildflowers planted are Indian Paintbrush, Tickseed, Indian Blanket, Purple Coneflower, Plains Coreopsis, Lemon Mint, Clasping Coneflower and Black-eyed Susan. Most of the seeds are donated. The state has received some federal funds for landscaping around the Prairie passage route, which runs along I-35 and covers the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota.

The state doesn’t mow wildflower areas until July, but there has been a slight communication problem regarding plots where contract mowing takes place.

"The contract folks just don’t know where those plots are," said Orr. "We’re trying to work that language out."

People should have no problem spotting the red granite state and historical markers and the highway art in Oklahoma. In a joint effort with the Historical Society and Tourism, the state has placed state markers on all the interstate entrances and is now in the process of installing more on smaller highways. Wildflower landscaping also is being done around the markers.

At the end of this month the state will install its first piece of highway art—a buffalo and calf—on an exit ramp off I-235. The piece will be at the entrance of the state’s capital and is worth approximately $160,000. The School of Figurative Sculpture at the University of Oklahoma is doing the casting, and to help raise money 60 small models, worth $2,500 apiece, were sold.

They’re on the map

Weld County, Colo., annaully ranks in the top six in the nation when it comes to agricultural production. The recognition places the supervision of noxious weed control at the top of the list.

When performing spot treatment, the county has three trucks carrying computers to record the data and calculate how much of an acre was sprayed in a given mile. At the end of the year, data is separated into five different catagories (0 to just under .10 acre, .1 to .25 acre, .26 to .50 acre, .51 to 1 acre and everything over 1 acre) and colors are used to represent the level of infestation.

"That allows us to look at the map so we can actually see what roads we want to spend a little bit more time on," Ron Broda, vegetation management specialist for Weld County, told ROADS & BRIDGES.

Some of the chemicals used for noxious weed control are Curtail, Tordon 22k, Vanquish with 2,4-D, Roundup and Telar. The toughest area to spray is irrigated ground along the roadside. In those sites there are certain herbicides the county will not use. In most cases, the sprayers will return at a later date and use other herbicides.

Weld County deals with 3,279 road miles and operated under a budget of $207,281 in 1999. Along with the spot treatment noxious weed control work, Weld County also has a total vegetation control program and does a lot of pre-emergent bareground work. The 697 miles of paved road are mowed two times a year. Most of the roads, however, are gravel. The county owns two Rhino, 15-ft Batwing mowers that are equipped with three 5-ft wings that can hydraulically lift up and down.

The state of Wyoming borders to the north, which accounts for some strong wind gusts. To prevent snow drifting on the road, Weld County plants lines of vegetation every summer.

"This year it took until the beginning of November to do two full passes," noted Broda. "We probably were about 30 miles short of hitting every single road ahead of time."

Tree City, U.S.A

There are quite a few spots of shade in Winston-Salem, N.C.—53,000 to be exact. That’s how many trees line the right-of-way, and more are being planted every year.

"We employ an urban forester within our division and have a lot of education," Ken Jackson, roadway appearance superintendent for the city of Winston-Salem, told ROADS & BRIDGES. "(Recently), 325 people signed up for Community Roots Day Planting to plant 300 trees in the neighborhood."

Winston-Salem has a plan that’s solid as oak. The three main objectives are public safety, aesthetics and the environment. Taking it a step further, Jackson’s department—which carries an in-house budget of $2.1 million—institutes five phases. Tree trimming is perhaps the most important of them all. The city has a preventative maintenance program, where the goal is to trim trees on 80% of the streets per year. Dealing with calls from citizens also is a priority, and the city has an emergency management program which deals with fallen debris. The fourth phase is tree planting, and the fifth is community involvement in the planting and maintenance of trees.

Mowing is conducted bi-weekly on interstates, weekly on primary corridors and every three weeks in residential areas. Over 14,000 hours of community service was used to pick up litter in 1999, and the city also has a "low tolerance" for weeds in concrete medians and guardrails. Contractors are used to keep areas free of vegetation pests.

"We monitor the areas weekly," said Jackson. "If there’s a problem beginning to develop, we call the contractors and they are expected to take care of it."

Perennial flowers are used to establish seasonal color. Large color contrast is the focus for the right-of-way. In 1994, the city had five acres of mulched beautification areas. Five years later, there were 45 acres.

Winston-Salem has done a lot of ISTEA Enhancement Fund landscape installation. There are a couple of projects going on right now, including a $1.4 million landscape enhancement on the Liberty Street corridor.

"We really work to provide quality maintenance, but also we really look for opportunities to provide landscape enhancements through increased turf quality, beautification and ground covers," said Jackson.

Thanks for your support

It’s tough to get Mack Bostick on the phone. Then again, once a connection is made his phone voice might be another problem. Bostick, local market manager for Monsanto, wears his vocal chords thin providing support for the Texas DOT pesticide training and research programs as well as city and county roadside vegetation programs across the state.

"In the pesticide training program there are over 1,300 applicators within the Texas DOT and they train each of those applicators each year," Paul Northcutt, executive secretary for NRVMA, told ROADS & BRIDGES. "They have over 25 schools, and Mack is very involved in supporting that training and providing materials."

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