Highway landscaping suffers in budget shortage

FRESNO, Calif.

"The taxpayers paid all this money to put this landscaping in, they don't take care of it. The trees are dying. They don't clean it up."

Joe Marzullo is angry. He and other residents out here think it looks terrible and that Cal Trans has wasted a lot of money. Caltrans acknowledges things aren't great.

"The explanation is we're doing our best. Everyone has a different opinion as to what 'terrible' looks like."

Caltrans Spokesman Jose Camerana says budget cuts, and especially the furloughing of state workers has had an impact on highway landscaping.

"The furlough program did away with one workday per week three workdays a month and that problem snowballs after a year and a half."

Camerana says Caltrans has focused on safety issues, but is working to keep the landscaping acceptable. He says it's not necessarily as bad as it looks. Because the switch toward natural vegetation means grasses will die in the summer heat ... but new seeds will sprout in the spring.

"It's a natural grass, it's natural state is to be brown and dead in the summertime, a lot of folks don't understand that."

It's not a problem limited to Caltrans. Cities and Counties are cutting back on landscaping. Karen Maroot, of Tree Fresno, a volunteer organization says citizens need to step-up.

"Cal Trans is doing what they can right now with limited funds as we all are, the city is really trying to think of creative solutions. We're asking community groups to come together and be part of the solution not part of the problem."

Tree Fresno has planted 40 thousand trees in Fresno over the past 25 years and relies on volunteers to help keep them alive. Caltrans has an "Adopt a Highway Program" where groups can come together to spent a few hours a month helping out. But this stretch of highway needs more than that, and Joe Marzullo says he and others out here think Cal Trans shouldn't be planting anything more than it can maintain.

"We wonder why did they put all this money into this if it's not gonna be taken care of."

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