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Objectives for the proposed research and assessment program are as follows, as provided in the problem statement provided by NYSDOT (modified slightly after NYSDOT 2002):

1.   Evaluate the current vegetation management program and "Alternatives to Herbicide" program

2.   Develop recommendations for the vegetation management program and "Alternatives to Herbicide" program

3.   Develop a systematic framework and research protocol for identification, evaluation and implementation of environmentally sensitive, lower maintenance, and cost effective vegetation management techniques that can be integrated into the overall vegetation management program

Project Abstract

Roadside rights-of-way (ROWs) are important technical and ecological features of the landscape. Tens of thousands of miles of such ROWs traverse New York. The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) is responsible for 15,000 miles of roadside ROWs, including 3,000 miles of guiderails. Over 100,000 acres of land are mowed on NYSDOT ROWs each year.

Vegetation on roadside ROWs are managed for multiple objectives:

1.   To provide motorists with adequate site distances;

2.   To control visibility of signs and guiderails;

3.   To prevent deadly fixed objectives (usually trees that may impact cars that leave the roadway);

4.   And to maintain pavement by controlling drainage problems and prevent pavement breakage by plants

Different vegetation management treatments may be used within a roadside ROW to meet these objectives. Mowing is commonly used in areas away from the road surface and guiderails, and herbicides are used along road edges and under the guiderails and near signs (NYSDOT undated). Cultural and biological control are achieved by establishing and maintaining low plant cover in certain ROW zones. A broader, more proactive approach to the use of cultural and biological control may be warranted on NYSDOT ROWs.

NYSDOT has recently developed a program on 'Alternatives to Herbicides' in an effort to improve environmental protection. This program is consistent with the agency-wide 'Environmental Initiative'. NYSDOT's Environmental Initiative focuses on:

1.   Communicating and cooperating with environmental resource agencies and the public;

2.   Planning, designing, and building environmentally sound transportation facilities; and

3.   Including innovative environmental components in transportation projects (from NYSDOT website)

In terms of actual practice of vegetation management, results of the "Alternatives to Herbicides" projects and initiatives have, to-date, not been well integrated into the overall NYSDOT IVM system. We suggest that this problem may be related to the notion that the NYSDOT vegetation management program is not perceived, nor conducted, as an Environmental Management System (EMS). We propose to aid in solving these shortfalls by assessing the herbicide alternatives program and the vegetation management system currently employed by NYSDOT. We will conduct a thorough review of information on herbicide alternatives and make recommendation on how to research, demonstrate and operationally test these alternatives. We will, in conjunction with representatives from NYSDOT, develop an EMS model as a framework for an assessment tool that includes a series of agency/industry specific principles, criteria, and indicators. Conclusion of the assessment will define needs and methods to facilitate the integration of the herbicide alternatives program into the overall business of roadside ROW management. We expect the assessment will show how NYSDOT can develop an EMS using existing environmental programs and systems (e.g., the Integrated Vegetation Management program) and improve business and environmental protection.