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Tired of waiting for state, towns begin mowing medians

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Grass in the median of U.S. 31 median through most of Johnson County has not been cut, making visibility difficult when crossing the highway. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Grass in the median of U.S. 31 median through most of Johnson County has not been cut, making visibility difficult when crossing the highway. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

Drivers waiting to turn along U.S. 31 in parts of Franklin are seeing window-high grass and weeds instead of oncoming traffic.

Some of the tallest weeds have grown as high as the roof of a car, and most stand at least 3 feet high. The state is responsible for mowing the medians along U.S. 31, but road crews from the state garage haven’t started cutting grass in Johnson County yet.

Franklin’s street department is averaging three calls per day from residents who want to know when the tall grass will be cut. The city is losing patience waiting for the state to take care of its land, street commissioner Ron Collins said.

Greenwood, New Whiteland and Whiteland already gave up on waiting. They sent their own staffs and mowers out to knock down the waist-high weeds.

How to complain

Want to make a complaint about tall grass along a state road?

Call the Indiana Department of Transportation Seymour district at 1-877-305-7611.

At a glance

How high: Grass in the medians along U.S. 31 in Franklin has grown to about 3 feet high, which can begin blocking the view from smaller cars. Some of the tallest weeds have sprung up as high as the roof of a car.

Not mowing: The Indiana Department of Transportation is responsible for mowing the medians but the state employees stationed in Amity haven’t started mowing yet. Those workers have been paving at night on Interstate 65 and may start mowing this week.

Not waiting: Greenwood, New Whiteland and Whiteland had their street departments mow the medians for both safety and aesthetic reasons. Franklin hasn’t cut the medians, but some business owners mow the grass in front of their businesses.

Businesses including Flinn & Maguire Funeral Home and Fletcher Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram already mow the medians in front of their locations. Since the state can be spotty on when the grass is cut, those businesses do it themselves to keep their stretch of road looking neat.

State road crews typically don’t start mowing until late May or early June. But workers from the state garage in Amity haven’t started any mowing yet because they’ve been working nights doing paving work, Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Harry Maginity said.

But even when they do start, state crews likely won’t even mow once a month, meaning the grass will be free to grow several feet in between cuts.

Town and city offices are getting daily complaints.

One day last week, Collins took seven calls before noon from people complaining about the high, swaying grass in the median of U.S. 31. It was a record, since most days the office gets three or four calls, he said.

One of those calls came from Dan Mustard, director of operations for Access Johnson County, after a bus driver mentioned how hard it was to see vehicles waiting in the crossover.

The driver noticed he could barely see a car waiting to turn or cross U.S. 31. Since the buses are taller than most cars, the driver was worried the high grass could lead to accidents if cars in the median pull out too far into traffic trying to see, Mustard said.

Collins contacted the Amity garage and is trying to come to an agreement for the city to mow the medians but hasn’t gone as far as just doing it yet. The roads are state property, and he has only one mower capable of cutting grass that high, and that unit is in use every day elsewhere in the city.

He also plans to give every caller the phone number for the INDOT office in Seymour, which is responsible for state roads in Johnson County.

“Let the taxpayers start complaining and not just another city,” Collins said.

‘A terrible reflection’

Greenwood, New Whiteland and Whiteland all have sent employees to mow the medians, even though it’s not their responsibility.

Mowing all the medians took the New Whiteland street department a day-and-a-half. It involved clearing the area of trash and debris as well as running a mower through the tall grass, public works superintendent Wendell Johnson said.

The town has only one large mower, and Johnson had to pull his staff away from mowing along streets and in parks to cut the medians. If the grass gets taller than a foot before the state gets to it, New Whiteland will likely mow it again, Johnson said.

Town council members talked about mowing the medians in the fall when the grass started getting high. But state crews came through the area shortly after and cut it, so the issue was dropped, Johnson said. This year, June was approaching, and the state still hadn’t been through, which seemed later than usual, New Whiteland Clerk-Treasurer Maribeth Alspach said.

Drivers coming out of Country Gate subdivision in New Whiteland couldn’t see around the grassy median while trying to make left turns onto southbound U.S. 31.

Greenwood and Whiteland already had mowed their medians by that point, so as drivers entered New Whiteland they were met with weeds, which made the town stand out in a bad way, Alspach said. The weeds and grass not only made it hard for drivers to see but also were making the town look unkempt to drivers passing through.

“It’s a terrible reflection on our town when you have weeds that are waist-high. It seems to me that for it to be the middle of June and we’ve not seen hide nor hair of (the state) this year seems odd,” she said.

The state typically starts mowing in June, Maginity said. Workers from the Amity garage, which is responsible for mowing and maintenance in Johnson County, haven’t started mowing because they are paving sections of I-65 at night and not working during the day, he said. INDOT’s Seymour District, which includes Johnson County, maintains about 5,500 miles of state and interstate roadway.

Maginity was uncertain what kind of mowing schedule Amity has in place or how often they’ll get to certain areas. Typically state crews only mow a particular stretch of road two or three times a year, he said.

Businesses act

Local business are aware that the state mows infrequently and pay to have the medians mowed in front of their businesses. Those areas in Franklin are visible now, where freshly cut areas stand next to overgrown ones.

Flinn & Maguire Funeral Home in Franklin has helped take care of the median since the 1970s, Jerry Maguire said. The company that mows the funeral home lot also cuts the median, and Maguire sprays weed killer to keep the grass clear.

Maguire remembers years ago when the medians along U.S. 31 were usually mowed by mid-May in time for the Indianapolis 500 race weekend.

Fletcher Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Franklin started having its mowing company cut grass on the medians last year, general manager Tom Thompson said. The landscaper cuts the grass around the lot about once a week and mows the median every other week.

“From a business standpoint, it’s just not very professional looking,” Thompson said.

If the state takes any longer, Collins may send city employees to cut the medians. Franklin has one large tractor with one employee devoted to mowing all day, all week.

The employee mows roadsides along city streets, such as Hospital Road and Earlywood, Eastview and Westview drives. After about two weeks of mowing, the employee starts the circuit over, Collins said.

Adding the medians to the mowing rotation might add an extra day or two to the cycle, he said.

Whiteland has been mowing the medians on U.S. 31 for years but didn’t have to last year because the drought kept plants from growing, street superintendent Chris Jones said.

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