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Mowing, growing

by Bryan Painter Modified: August 11, 2013 at 3:00 pm •  Published: August 11, 2013

Up the hill, close to the fence line, an Oklahoma Transportation Department tractor with a 15-foot mowing deck comes to a stop in the spacious right of way.

The deep grass begins to part.

Grasshoppers spray this way and that like freshly popped kernels of corn from a pot with no lid.

Richard Vaughn, a smiling 5-foot-6 interstate crew superintendent with a neon green and orange and white striped safety cap, and a more salt than pepper beard, emerges from vegetation nearly as tall in some spots as he is.

“It's a little thick out here,” Vaughn says as he walks into the 30-foot “clear zone,” an area bordering the shoulder where grass is routinely kept shorter. “The last couple of years you'd only have to make one pass, maybe two.

“We're going over it at least three times in the thicker stuff to get it knocked down.”

It's been a grow-as-they-mow spring and summer for many Transportation Department crews.

Need and response

Rainfall in central Oklahoma averaged 26.9 inches from April 1 through Friday morning, the second-wettest such period since 1921, said Gary McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.

Vaughn was mowing about 10 miles north of Guthrie on this particular day. The Oklahoma Mesonet weather site in that area recorded 25 inches from just March to July. That equaled what fell from March to July in 2011 and 2012 combined.

The Transportation Department is responsible for mowing or having 409,000 acres mowed in the 77 counties. Safety is the foremost reason for mowing, while other factors include fire suppression for periods when it is drier, aesthetics and preventive measures such as keeping grass in cracks from leading to further roadway deterioration, said Terri Angier, agency spokeswoman.

Safety includes sight distance at intersections or visibility allowing a motorist to see wildlife or livestock crossing the road.

“This is a little bit different for us. It's the first time in several years we've had things growing like this,” said Roy Counts, the department's Division 4 maintenance engineer. “We've had a tremendous amount of rain. The grass comes back just like it does on your lawn, about as soon as you mow.”

The department's crews mow everything in their area and then start again. And this continues generally from spring into the early fall.

by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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