Tag Archives: vegetation

Slow-motion spraying operation was typical

The in basket: I came across what seemed an unusual operation on a recent trip to Belfair on the stretch of Highway 3 between Bremerton National Airport and Lake Flora Road. A large truck-mounted electronic sign said our lane was closed ahead and to yield to oncoming traffic. It had traffic stopped – almost.

The truck was moving at a snail’s pace and since the first vehicle behind it was a semitrailer tanker truck, I couldn’t see what had closed our lane. It being a normal afternoon on that two-lane portion of Highway 3, oncoming traffic kept the tanker truck and those of us behind it pretty well pinned down as we crept along. I don’t know what the tanker was carrying, but its size and probably it’s cargo called for caution.

Finally the tanker got a break in traffic and pulled out and around the sign truck, as did some of us behind it. We discovered that the lane was still blocked by a smaller slow-moving tank truck from which a stream of liquid was being sprayed on the shoulder.

I saw the trucks twice more that day, once in the same southbound lanes, but moving at highway speed and not spraying anything, and later spraying the northbound shoulder.

It obviously was a vegetation management operation, one of several discussed at length on the Washington State Department of Transportation Web site. But I wondered if there was anything unusual about it, as I often see mowers at work on the shoulder and know the state uses herbicides, but had never seen that slow-moving operation before.

The out basket, No, says Claudia Bingham Baker of the state’s Olympic Region. “You saw a typical vegetation spraying operation.  It focuses on controlling  vegetation to maintain motorists’ sight distance, and eliminate vegetation encroachment onto the highway and its roadside hardware (like drainage, guardrail, etc.).  Crews typically treat the roadside in one direction, then turn around and treat in the opposite direction.”

Should drought increase need for mowing on shoulders?

The in basket: Christina  Stewart asks, “Can anyone tell me if the county is out in their area actively mowing the sides of the road? With the fire danger off the charts, shouldn’t (they be) mowing down all the dry grass and weeds next to the county roads? I just drove in to work today up Columbia Street (Port Gamble-Suquamish Rd.) and then into Poulsbo on Lincoln. The grass is taller than most vehicles in some areas. Yesterday I was in the Kingston area, same issue. We are creating our own potential safety problem! The county should be mowing all day everyday.”

The out basket: Actually, mowing can start grass fires as well as prevent them, and leave cut grass slightly more likely to burn,.

Practices vary among jurisdictions, but since Christina asks about the North Kitsap area, I’ve limited my inquiries to Kitsap County, the state and Poulsbo.

I asked their normal practices and whether the heat and lack of rain has changed them this year.

Jacques Dean, road superintendent for the county, said on July 7″, “We have not made any changes to our vegetation management program. Our mower in the north end has been unavailable due to mechanical problems, which has put us behind schedule there.  We were waiting for parts to make repairs. It is back in operation now. We do mow all day, every day during the growing season when equipment is available.


“Our vegetation mowers operate five days a week over eight months per year (vegetation is generally dormant November through February).  With this approach we have been able to mow 1,900 shoulder miles of roadway each year, or approximately 950 centerline miles. We are able to mow most, if not all of our roadways at least once per year.  It should also be noted that our crews apply vegetation herbicides to approximately 840 shoulder miles of roadway each year, which assists in keeping vegetation in check.


Logistically, and realistically, we cannot address all of our roadways simultaneously, specifically during the peak of the growing season.  We have to take a systematic approach to our vegetation management program, considering the overall scope of work, available schedule, resource availability, roadway level of service, types of vegetation, geographic location/proximity, etc.  Our crews are working hard to ensure that our roadways are safe, in good condition, and aesthetically pleasing.  They are doing the best possible job.”

Claudia Bingham Baker, state highway spokesman here, said, “When conditions get extremely dry we stop most mowing activities. This link http://wsdotblog.blogspot.com/2015/07/working-to-prevent-roadside-brush-fires.html talks about our efforts to reduce the risk of fires.”

That site says, in part, “Every year, we do most of our mowing in early spring or late fall to avoid the hot, dry summer season. We also leave bare ground barriers alongside roadways in many cases to provide extra protection against sparks and other fire risks. This year is no different.

“That said, some of our maintenance work can’t wait, often because to do so would comprise motorist safety. And work like mowing, grinding or welding carry some inherent risks of sparks that could lead to a fire.

That’s why whenever we complete maintenance work during the dry season we take several precautions. That includes having water and tools on site to immediately extinguish any sparks or fires that start due to our work.

We also limit our maintenance work during the hottest part of the day. Work is done from 8 p.m. to 1 p.m., when it’s more humid and less likely for a fire to start. If weather conditions are particularly severe, everything except emergency work is halted.”

Dan Wilson, head of Poulsbo Public Works, says he isn’t sure that Christina got into the city, but if she did, he thinks she would have found the city’s shoulders well tended by their mostly hand-done streetside brush clearing.

Bremerton cuts less brush with fewer man-hours

The in basket: Penny Swan e-mails to say, “We walk often, and live in the Tracyton area, so use Riddell Road.  Who is responsible for knocking down the blackberry bushes and other brush along Riddell Road, on the south side by Peace Lutheran Church?  County or city?

“It is getting so bad, you have to walk in the street to avoid it, as there are no sidewalks there.”

The out basket: That is the city of Bremerton’s side of Riddell, and they plan to get to it, says Colen Corey, operations manager for city public works.

“Due to cuts in personnel, our mowing program has had to be reduced in regularity and scope,” he said. “In years past, 1,200 to 1,500 man-hours were devoted to mowing and vegetation control on the right-of-way. This year we are on track to spend around 550 man-hours mowing the right-of way.”

Even so, he said, his department will mow that area, “as well as the rest of the right-of way, one more time before the growing season stops.”

‘Jungle’ said to be claiming barrier on 303

The in basket: Perry East e-mailed to say he’d “noticed that the large divider on Highway 303 (near McWilliams and Fairgrounds roads) is looking like the jungle is taking over – moss, grass and trees growing up and against. Has the state any plans for clean up of this?”

Perry’s inquiry came just a week after Paul Zellinsky of Bremerton asked me the same thing.

Paul was for 14 years a state representative here, and he said he contacted old friend Mary Margaret Haugen, now head of the Senate Transportation Committee, asking her to intercede to see that it is cleaned up.

The out basket: Duke Stryker, head of the state’s highway maintenance operation here, said he hasn’t had any expressions of interest in that barrier from Olympia or regional headquarters. But he had his maintenance supervisor visit the site after I asked and he agrees the barrier needs attention.

They’ll be getting to it as soon as they are done with pavement repair that requires a grinder, such as that on Wheaton Way, in Gorst and in Purdy, discussed in a recent Road Warrior column.

They have to share the grinder, which they rent from the city of Bremerton, he said, and it will be going to Clallam County when they are done here. So his crews are working nights and have a limited time (through June) to complete this summer’s dig out and replacement pavement repair. Later, they’ll do less intensive grader resurfacing.

I asked him if the demands of the awful winter of 2008-09 might have required cutbacks in aesthetic operations like cleanup of the center barriers on state highways the following summer. He said that’s a balancing act they do all the time, but he couldn’t say there was any necessary relationship between that winter and the barrier on 303.

Certainly safety work like renewing highway striping every years and preservation work like the pavement repair take precedence over cleanup jobs, he said.

I noticed there was some impressive vegetation along the jersey barrier farther north on 303, suggesting it was missed last year too.

Herbicides used in state and county brush control


The in basket: Tom Loushe of Keyport writes, “I’ve noticed that on at least Highway 308 it seems the county has sprayed herbicide on roadside growth. Can this be true? And if so, is the solution detrimental to fish?

“I’ve also seen it north of the Hood Canal Bridge toward Port Gamble,” he said. He describes the evidence as brown shriveled weeds, mostly small alder trees.

The out basket: Those stretches are state highways, not county roads, and the state does use herbicides as part of its roadside vegetation control. Kitsap County does too.

A lengthy discussion of the program statewide can be found online at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/maintenance/vegetation/default.htm. And if you click on Roadside Vegetation Management Plans under More Detailed Information, you can get to the Olympic Region, District 2 plan that covers state highways in Kitsap and Mason counties. 

There is a huge amount of information that would fill more than 50 pages if printed out. 

The statewide site says, among other things, that the toxic potential of the herbicides used is regularly “screened through a scientific risk assessment specific to application rates and methods used… 

“Findings from these assessments indicate that for most herbicides in most situations, (our) use of herbicides poses a low to very low potential risk to human and environmental health. If certain herbicides are found to have a potential for higher toxicity to human health or the environment, their use on state highway roadsides may be limited, phased out, or immediately eliminated.”

Duke Stryker, maintenance superintendent of state highways here, said herbicides were sprayed in both locations Tom mentions, so he presumably is seeing the result. 

Kitsap County also has a manual describing its standards. Go to http://www.kitsapgov.com/pw/roads.htm and click on Vegetation Management.

I asked what percentage of clearing is done with chemicals vs. cutting and Doug Schultz, county road superintendent, replied. To understand his answer, you need to know that zone 1 is essentially the shoulder, zone 2 included where signs are installed and zone 3 extends to the limits of the right of way.

“Typically,” Don said, “we will shoulder spray about 1,200 miles yearly, primarily in zone 1. We mow about 1,600 miles yearly. Mowing is tracked by the shoulder mile as well, but includes zones 1, 2, and 3, so its difficult to compare apples to apples. We also hand spray (and) hand pull noxious weeds, spray brush in zones 2 and 3 and perform overhead brushing with the boom truck and mechanical air powered saws.”