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The first assignment for the People’s Reporter comes from Russ Sperling, a downtown resident.

Sperling wanted to know what was going on with maintenance of State Route 163 through Balboa Park.

Remember when driving through Balboa Park on the 163 was a more beautiful experience? Ever since they put in those guard rails on the median, it’s gotten ugly. The weeds are like 4 feet tall between the roadway and the rail. I keep thinking that someday the City (or CalTrans?) is going to chop them down, but months and months go by and no attention is given. And the scrappy looking lawn in the median is nowhere near as pleasant to the eye as it used to be. I doubt that I am the only one who thinks it reflects poorly on our city– huge weeds through this once reputable gateway.

I placed a call to Edward Cartagena, a spokesman for Caltrans, which is in charge of maintaining the median on State Route 163, and asked him why Caltrans had allowed the median to become overgrown.

“We’ve gotten quite a few calls about that over the last several years,” Cartagena said. “That’s the look we were directed to do by our landscape office.”

About four years ago, Caltrans installed barriers along the highway median because of concerns about accidents involving cars crossing the center divider, Cartagena said.

But the new barriers presented a problem. After they were installed, Caltrans mowers could no longer easily pop onto the median to maintain the tidy look of the lawn that Sperling fondly remembers. Now, maintaining the median requires temporary lane closures, which Caltrans tries to avoid.

So, Cartagena said, “When the guard rail was put up, the decision was made to go from a golf course green look to more of a meadow.” The meadow, he said, requires less frequent maintenance.

To achieve the new look, Caltrans planted a new grass variety, red fescue. The grass looks like weeds but isn’t.

Now, instead of mowing the lawn every week, Caltrans workers only have to go out to maintain the median every six months, though the agency tries to send crews out quarterly to assess what needs to be done, Cartagena said.

The areas directly beneath the guard rail are plagued with weeds, Cartagena admitted, and that’s Caltrans’ biggest problem because its machinery can’t get to them. Workers use spray to kill those weeds, though they tend to get overgrown because of the diminished frequency of maintenance.

“People are used to the manicured look,” Cartagena said. “The unkempt look, people are hesitant to accept. But it was planned.”

Thanks for the question, Russ. Keep your tips and assignments coming by contacting me using the information below, or ask a question in the comments section of this post.

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org, or at 619.325.0528, and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

Adrian Florido

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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