Budget Cuts Leave Tall Grass, Weeds

Budget woes are cutting down the ability of states and cities to tend to tall grass and causing safety concerns along roadways across the USA.

In some states, cities have been forced to take over mowing that used to be handled state agencies. In Virginia, volunteers are mowing along some roadways.

John Townsend, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, says the organization has been receiving complaints about the tall grass and is concerned for motorists.

"When you have overgrown grass that's up to waist-high, that's a safety issue," he says. "In some states it may be years before patches of grass are cut so that will create more dangers at ramps and intersections."

Before drastic budget cuts last year, the Virginia Department of Transportation spent about $42 million a year on mowing, spokesman Jeff Caldwell says. The department is looking to cut that figure by about $20 million by cutting grass once to three times a year instead of four to six times of the past, he says.

Some Virginia residents are revving up their lawnmowers to help. A VDOT program announced in May allows them to apply for a permit for mowing along low-volume primary and secondary roads and receive appropriate training and safety tools, Caldwell says. Just a handful of volunteers have signed up so far, he says. They will not be reimbursed for gas or any mowing repairs, he adds.

The city of Kenosha, Wis.,. is using its own staff and funds to mow county roadways after the Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced it would mow only once this season for the second year in a row, says Kenosha Parks Department Superintendent Jeff Warnock. He says the reduction created vision hazards and stirred many complaints.

"I couldn't say if we had accidents or not, but it wouldn't surprise me if we did," Warnock says. He says he's not sure how the city will cover the added expense.

The city of Crystal Lake, Ill., is also mowing state roadways, says Eric Lecuyer, public works director. Last year, some became overgrown with weeds and vegetation up to 4 feet and the appearance made the city look "blighted" and caused concerns about promoting economic growth, he says.

Elsewhere:

• Wisconsin: The state's two-year budget for routine maintenance was reduced by 11% last year, says Dave Vieth, director of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's bureau of highway operations. That allows the state to mow just once a year except in places where tall grass might hinder vision.

• Tennessee: The state cut $2 million by trimming mowing schedules, says Julie Oaks, spokeswoman for the state's DOT.

• Jacksonville, Fla.: The city is saving $760,000 this year after adjusting mowing schedules from May through September for city-owned right of ways from every two weeks to every 30 days and for areas around city buildings and landscaped medians from every two weeks to every three weeks, says Misty Skipper, spokeswoman for Mayor John Peyton.

• Texas: The state is saving nearly $25 million a year after reducing its mowing operations.

Contributing: Lackey reports for The (Staunton, Va.) News Leader

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