More rain leads to bumper crop of grass along roadsides


SPRINGFIELD -- If you think state highways and interstates are looking shaggier than usual, you’re correct.

Blame the weather, though, not state government’s money problems.

The same wet conditions that have required homeowners to cut their lawns more often than usual during the late summer and early fall have meant a bumper crop of grasses and weeds along Illinois highways and interstates.

Unlike homeowners, though, the Illinois Department of Transportation can’t take a quick spin around the yard whenever the grass needs cutting.

“The grass is unusually high this year,” said Roger Driskell, IDOT regional engineer for the Springfield area. “It’s been an extremely wet year, so the grass grows more.”

IDOT used to mow along roads three times a year. That was before budget problems forced the department to cut back to twice a year in most cases. More frequent cutting is done when a safety issue is involved, such if grass and weeds block views at an intersection.

Reducing mowing reduces the amount of fuel used, among other things. But it also means a longer time between cuts. And when growing conditions are ideal, that means those weeds and grass will be taller by the time the mowers hit the second time.

Other factors go into how quickly roadsides are mowed. The excessive rains that help the grass grow also make it too wet to mow at times. And highway maintainers, who do the mowing, also have other jobs to perform when the weather is decent.

“Normally, we don’t have over half the crews mowing,” Driskell said. “We can’t have everyone mowing. They’ve got other work to do. There’ll be days when we get reports of potholes or drainage problems. Typically, mowing is not a safety hazard.”

So, sometimes, mowing takes a back seat to other work.

Driskell noted that Interstate 55 north of Springfield has seen a considerable amount of work on the roadway and shoulders this year. Mowing crews usually don’t work while construction crews are working, he said.

  Driskell said crews aren’t any later with mowing this year than in previous years.

  “In two or three weeks, we’ll be done,” he said.

  State Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, said he drove to St. Louis Tuesday and didn’t notice anything he would call a problem. State Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, said he has no complaints about the mowing job IDOT is doing.

“I think they are doing a better job now,” Poe said.

Doug Finke can be reached at 788-1527.

Highway maintainers Maintenance budget*

Fiscal year 2008 1,764 $382 million

Fiscal year 2009 1,636 $401 million

Fiscal year 2010 1,755 $428 million

Fiscal year 2011 1,756 $417 million

*Includes materials and personnel costs.

Source: Illinois Department of Transportation