Landscaping by SHA draws words of praise

THE BALTIMORE SUN

IT WAS refreshing to hear from Ben Harris, who had compliments instead of hisses for the State Highway Administration.

"I just wanted to drop a note about the new landscaping on Route 32. For a long time I've been thinking about the huge median between the two sides and wondered why it was nothing but grass. It makes me happy to see the new trees planted there, which will not only beautify the landscape but help absorb some of the pollution we cause on our daily commutes," he said.

The Route 32 landscaping Mr. Harris admired is between U.S. 29 and Interstate 95.

"Now there are different types of trees and bushes planted. It should look great next year!" he said.

Coincidentally, just before his e-mail landed in my inbox, I had noticed new landscaping along Route 100, between Snowden River Parkway and U.S. 29, so I was eager to pass on the compliments to SHA.

Kellie Boulware, an SHA spokeswoman, said the plantings along Route 100 and Route 32 are part of SHA's Mowing Reduction Program. "As part of our Environmental Stewardship Initiative, SHA's goal is to reduce the environmental and financial impacts of mowing through meadow and forest restoration," she said.

Nearly 1,000 acres statewide, including the median of Route 32 in Howard County, are a part of this program. The natural meadows that result from the plantings help SHA reduce mowing and improve roadside safety by not having as much equipment on the shoulders. "This is a cost and environmental savings for the state of Maryland," Boulware said.

The landscaped median along Route 32 consists of about 27 acres. Boulware says a "woodsline appearance" was designed by SHA's Office of Environmental Design, and plantings include large shade trees (sugar maple, red maple, sweetgum and pin oak), evergreen plants (American holly and eastern white pine), flowering trees (winter king hawthorn, eastern redbud and winterberry), shrub masses (purple leaf sand cherry, staghorn sumac), ornamental grasses and perennial flowers (such as daylilies).

Daylilies and sunflowers were planted along the sound barrier wall that lines Route 100. Native switch grasses and juniper were planted, in addition to American holly, sweetgum and golden rain trees. Also placed along the sound wall was Virginia creeper. Boulware said that the two-mile project extends from Long Gate Parkway to just east of Snowden River Parkway.

What are the criteria for plants that are chosen?

"Plants [must be] very-low-maintenance, salt-tolerant, compatible to the environment [i.e., vehicle exhaust] and be able to grow in confined spaces," Boulware said.

Since we are on the topic of landscaping, what about the roundabout medians? Many of the roundabouts in Howard County are quite spectacular when the daylilies bloom.

"Each one of SHA's 30-plus roundabouts is treated individually in terms of landscaping," said David Buck, manager of SHA's Office of Communications.

"Roundabouts are used to increase safety - apparent in that they reduce fatal crashes at intersections between 60 and 100 percent. We want people to pay attention to the signs, not the landscaping," he said. "Therefore, most landscaping in roundabouts is subtle and does not require much ongoing maintenance. But each one is different, depending on factors such as the size of the center of roundabout, sight distance for motorists, maintenance considerations and cost."

Turn on the lights

Why don't drivers use their headlights more often? Are they clueless or inconsiderate?

Unlighted vehicles after sunset really put a kink in Mike Daniel's crankshaft. "On my commute up U.S. 29 in the evenings, I've been noticing that more drivers are refusing to use their headlights after sunset. Nowadays, by 5:15 p.m., it's sufficiently dark that headlight use is mandated. For some reason, these drivers think that riding with the parking lights only is sufficient," he said.

I agree with Mr. Daniel. It is not as if having headlights on during daylight is going to be any harm. If it's 5:30 p.m. this time of year, you probably need your headlights on. The sun set at 5:17 last night, and by 5:30 p.m. I would have put my headlights on. The generally accepted rule is to turn headlights on within 30 minutes after sunset, although I believe drivers should do so within 15 minutes of sunset. On cloudy or overcast days, it should be earlier.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at TrafficTalk@comcast.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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