In the Weeds: The City's Again Dealing With Shabby Highway Medians, Including Central

Perhaps you were under the impression that the Texas Department of Transportation is responsible for mowing and maintaining the highway rights-of-way throughout the city. Or maybe you just never thought about it. What's that like, not thinking about highway medians? We wouldn't know.

Either way, you may recall that way back in September 2010, the city agreed to take over the mowing and maintenance of highway rights-of-way from TxDOT, although council members weren't very happy about it at the time: Ann Margolin actually commented that she was "horrified" the city was taking over what used to be the state's responsibility. Now, two city departments, Public Works and Street Services, are asking the city take responsibility for two more gigantic stretches of highway, including Central Expressway between downtown and LBJ.

At this morning's Quality of Life Committee Meeting, the city council members only had two small problems with that plan: They kind of hate how the rights-of-way look, and they don't see why the city should dump more money into taking care of them.

The original plan, as we told you last fall, was that TxDOT would rip out all the non-native plants in the rights-of-way and pay for that removal and the replanting native grasses (cleverly, that's referred to as the "Native Grass Program"). Then the city is responsible for maintenance, at a cost of around $100,000 a year, for the next five years.

TxDOT's supposed to reimburse the city for three "mowing cycles" and 12 "clean-up cycles" per year though. Currently, the city maintains US 67 at Kiest Boulevard, and the median along N. Central Expressway from Woodall Rogers to LBJ Freeway. At this morning Quality of Life Committee meeting, reps from the Public Works and Street Services Department asked the committee members to consider adding two more rights-of-way to that list: the area at US 175, IH-20 and Loop 12 ("Identified and developed as an outcome of the Mayor's Southern Dallas Task Force," per the briefing docs), and and the cross-street bridges and terraces above that same stretch of Central. The estimated cost per year for both would be about $108,500.

Margolin and Angela Hunt both had the same question: Where's that money supposed to come from? Rick Galceran, director of Public Works, and Gilbert Aguilar, director of Street Services, weren't sure. It's not currently in the budget for Street Services, who would be taking over the maintenance.

Sandy Greyson had a slightly different concern. "I gotta tell you," she said, looking at the photograph of Central Expressway the two men had brought along. "That looks like a bunch of weeds to me. It looks like dead grass. It's ... " She paused searching for the right words. "Less than exciting," she finally concluded.

But it is more ecologically friendly, Galceran explained, because it's a native grass that turns brown in the winter and greens up again in the summer, and doesn't require as much watering.

"They took the flowers out, and this is what they left us with?" Carolyn Davis said with dismay.

For Margolin, the whole thing is beginning to look like a waste of money, she said, even though some of that roadway runs right through her district. "The question is, would I rather have landscaping on bridges or more library books?" she said. "I don't know if I think it's even worth it. I don't know if this is the best use of our money. I'm skeptical."

The city's due to vote on the new rights-of-way January 25.

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