Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials have begun their yearly process of treating noxious weeds that spring up alongside roads.
Left unattended, nuisance weeds can grow so large they encroach on roadways, obstructing drivers’ vision.
In accordance with Kentucky statutes, KYTC specifically seeks to address several species of plant, including:
• Johnson grass,
• giant foxtail,
• Canada thistle,
• common teasel,
• Amur honeysuckle,
• poison hemlock,
• Japanese knotweed
• and kudzu.
Mike Smith, a roadside environment state administrator for KYTC, said the weeds flourish during different seasons. The department’s maintenance activities likely will continue until early fall.
“Safety is our No. 1 concern in everything we do,” Smith told Transport Topics. “If you have large, encroaching vegetation growing close to the edge of the pavement, it restricts the visibility for the drivers [who are] not able to see ahead and also obscures the visibility at people’s entrances to their driveways, as well as railroad crossings.”
KYTC uses several methods to contain the plants. Smith said the most popular is mowing, but the agency also relies on mulching and seeding of desirable grasses and insects that feed on certain pest plants. KYTC also has 350 certified pesticide applicators, who spray chemicals on the noxious weeds.
The agency treats state-maintained roads and interstates, but Smith noted that weeds vary from route to route depending on region. For example, Johnson grass is more common in western Kentucky, while Japanese knotweed and kudzu are more prevalent in the eastern part of the state. He said that many of the weeds were introduced to Kentucky from Asia years ago. For example, kudzu was brought in during the Dust Bowl era to help control soil erosion.
Giant foxtail. (Kentucky Transportation Cabinet)
Kentucky Trucking Association President Rick Taylor said he has not heard from members about having vision problems on the road because of overgrown plants. Smith said complaints about interstate conditions are rare, but that KYTC occasionally will hear from trucking companies about invasive plants on narrow rural roads.
“Anytime you have a lot of encroachment in a road, it forces the truck to have to travel in the center of the road, which is not a good thing,” Smith said.
Besides hampering vision, noxious weeds can negatively affect infrastructure. Smith said vegetation that ensconces guardrails not only obscures the rails, it prematurely corrodes the structures. The plants also can entangle bridges, making it difficult for engineers to routinely inspect the spans.
Smith said some of the plants have tenacious roots that can cause pavement to crack. They also can clog roadside ditches, which can lead to flooding and subsequent pavement damage.
KYTC offers homeowners who are treating nuisance weeds on their property the opportunity to request that the agency eradicate weeds found on adjacent state-owned roads.
“It’s just one of the ways we are wanting to be good neighbors and ensure that the surrounding property near them is not hindering their active treatment,” KYTC spokeswoman Naitore Djigbenou told TT. “The Cabinet is responsible for maintaining 27,500 miles of state-maintained routes. It’s a big undertaking, but it’s something we do since we have a focus on safety.”