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July 29, 2013

Mayor pushes MDOT to clear brush near freeway

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

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Warren Mayor Jim Fouts has written to MDOT’s director about high grass and weeds along the I-696 service drive. MDOT spokesman Rob Morosi said the state spent more than anticipated on road maintenance over the harsh winter, which left a budgetary shortfall for maintenance during the summer months.

WARREN — Warren Mayor Jim Fouts has penned a letter to the director of the Michigan Department of Transportation about overgrowth along the I-696 service drive in response to what the mayor said were the complaints of residents.

“This is deplorable,” Fouts said in the letter addressed to MDOT Director Kirk T. Steudle. “While we are working hard to clean up our neighborhoods and forcing residents to cut their high grass, MDOT is blighting our service drives with high weeds and crumbling fences. In other words, the state of Michigan is creating blight — not helping communities to eliminate blight.”

Fouts said he took the matter up with state Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, who wrote to him to say Michigan’s financial situation currently precludes weeding more than once a year.

MDOT spokesman Rob Morosi said the mayor’s concerns were justified but that the strain put on the department’s maintenance budget — from which brush management is paid for — last winter resulted in a financial shortage for summertime work.

“Maintenance budgets are spread between winter and summer. You look at winter maintenance and it’s one of the most important ones: snow plowing, salting freeways,” Morosi said.

He said the state had allocated $88 million to cover winter maintenance last year, but spent more than $100 million due to the severity of the season in some parts of the state.

“We had to take it from the summer maintenance budget to cover the cost,” Morosi said. “We’re already starting in a deficit in the summer.”

Morosi said that doesn’t mean there’s nothing the state can do to cut back tall grass and weeds.

He said the plan of action is to address it first as a matter of safety, meaning that areas such as entrance ramps — where weeds could impede sightlines — would be cut first.

“Safety is always going to supersede aesthetics,” Morosi said. “We have indicated to the mayor that we will get to those weeds; it’s just that we haven’t gotten to them on the normal cycle that we typically do, based on the budget shortfall.”

In his letter, Fouts said he would consult with Warren’s attorneys to determine if city crews could cut the brush monthly and then bill the state.

Morosi said the department would support continued dialogue between the city of Warren and state transportation officials working regionally.

“We know the mayor understands budget constraints. We have them ourselves,” Morosi said. “I think the best way to resolve any type of difference is through conversation. It’s imperative that we sit down, as a city and as a state agency, and look for creative ways to manage the issue and hopefully prevent it in the future.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.