Integrating Roadside Vegetation and Erosion Control
Better Roads Staff
By Tom Kuennen, Contributing Editor
Integrated roadside management programs are being adopted at state and county road agencies because they combine the multiple missions of vegetation management, roadside beautification, motorist safety, erosion control and roadway appurtenance maintenance into one package.
By combining these missions, economies of scale are achieved and long-term results can be achieved. Like pavement and bridge preservation programs, or other asset management programs, roadside management programs can help administrators decide what outcomes will be best for a particular stretch of highway, and following a timeline, help the agency work toward that outcome over a period of years.
Gone are the days when roadside management meant just periodic mowing and spraying of weeds, biannual regrading of shoulders, and sporadic visits to sedimented drainage ditches with a wheel excavator. Today’s integrated plans incorporate these elements into a “tool box” of additional treatments or actions that are programmed over time for the best impact on the system and expenses.
“Vegetation is [just] one important element of roadside maintenance,” says the Minnesota DOT in its Best Practices Handbook for Roadside Vegetation Management, 2008-2020. “A healthy roadside environment reduces maintenance needs and costs, reduces erosion and improves water quality, improves water infiltration and reduces runoff, preserves the roadside surface, maximizes safety for vehicles and travelers, limits liability for the governing agency, maintains good public relations, improves the overall driving experience, and provides habitat for wildlife populations.”
Vegetation Control = Safety
Nonetheless, vegetation control as a means of ensuring motorist safety is the prime driver of the integrated roadside management movement.
“The primary objective in maintenance of roadside vegetation is to promote the safety of the highway user, preserve the highway infrastructure and control of legally designated noxious weeds where they occur on the right of way,” says the Washington State DOT. “Other considerations include protection and preservation of natural environment, preservation and enhancement of the natural scenic quality of the roadside, and the need to be a good steward of the forest along this corridor.”
In Washington State, roadside vegetation maintenance activities are planned and conducted to discourage or eliminate unwanted vegetation, and promote desirable vegetation. Like the pavement preservation timeline, integrated vegetation management principles include prevention of overgrowth or growth of noxious weeds, monitoring of conditions, determination of action thresholds and the proper timing of maintenance efforts, selection of the least-disruptive control and effective revegetation tactics, and continuing evaluation.
“The integrated vegetative management process provides information for the total roadside management system, which is used to analyze vegetation problems and implement long-term solutions,” WS DOT says. This broad overview approach helps vegetation managers answer key questions, such as whether treatment actions are needed, where they should take place in the system, when these actions should take place, and which mix of strategies, tactics and treatments are the best to use.
Very simply, roadside vegetation management involves caring for or controlling plants along the highway. “If managed properly, roadside vegetation can become self-sustaining over time and require less maintenance,” WS DOT says. “This helps reduce costs and minimizes herbicide use.”
Vegetation, if left alone, can grow out of control and block visibility (signs, traffic, wildlife) which could endanger motorists, WS DOT says. “Weeds must be controlled to avoid impacts on the farming community and native ecosystems,” it says. “Pride of ownership and the beauty of Washington State are also important factors, both aesthetically and economically, such as with the tourism industry.”
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