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State cutting back on roadside mowing, cleanup

The Georgia Department of Transportation is moving from cutting down grass to cutting down on grass-cutting.

The department announced that as of July 1 — the beginning of the next fiscal year — it will reduce the number of times it cuts the grass on interstates and state routes.

The measure aims to save GDOT about $10.95 million in the next year, said Mark McKinnon, a spokesman for the department.

“The move begins July 1, though it will take a few weeks to get (the changes implemented),” he said.

The grass sides of state routes will be mowed once a year instead of twice, while interstates will be mowed three times each year rather than four times.

The only exception, McKinnon said, is when there’s a potential hazard for drivers, such as grass growing too tall and blocking a road sign.

“It’s all a matter of the budget,” McKinnon said. “We hope it’s not permanent. We hope we’ll be able to increase the service once the economy improves.”

Part of the cost-cutting also will include less roadside trash collecting, McKinnon said. Major debris, such as pieces of an automobile on the road, will be taken care of immediately, he said, since those are road hazards. But things such as soda cans or plastic cups on the side of the road won’t be attended to as often.

It’s been common for the GDOT to work with the state’s Department of Corrections to use prison work gangs to clean up the sides of the interstates, McKinnon said, but cutbacks with the Department of Corrections has made that unfeasible as well.

Richard Powell, director of Macon’s Public Works Department, said the cutbacks likely won’t have a big impact on the city, since the city maintains its own rights-of-way.

“The city is still cutting its grass as usual,” he said.

Powell said he hasn’t heard much about the state’s plan.

“We’re just trying to keep up with our own schedule,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

In the past couple of years, the reduction in grass trimming might not have made as big an impact, because the state was under drought conditions. But an above-average amount of rainfall in 2009 has led to much higher and thicker grass over most of Georgia.

“The rain has made things grow a lot faster,” McKinnon said. “We’re putting in herbicides to make it grow slower.”

McKinnon said GDOT is working to offer a grass-cutting program for civic groups in Georgia that’s similar to the state’s Adopt-A-Highway program. That program allows groups to adopt a stretch of road in Georgia and clean up roadside trash.

The new program would allow a civic group to adopt a stretch of roadway and hire a landscaping service to keep the grass cut and maintain the area’s aesthetics.

The civic group would have to get prior approval from GDOT, McKinnon said, but the department is very interesting in seeking out such partnerships.

For more information on the state’s roadside grass-cutting program, visit www.dot.ga.gov.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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