Roadside beauty put at risk

When it came to "the war on litter," he told the audience, Gwinnett was a winner.

"We're winning because of communities like this that understand it's not just a slogan," he said on Sept. 26, 2007. "It's getting the job done."

In early 2000, the county spent about $100,000 a year on road cleanup. The year Perdue spoke, the county was spending five times that amount.

That was then.

In Gwinnett, roadside maintenance along county roads has been reduced due to budget shortfalls.

The county has opted to save $250,000 by reducing its mowing schedule during the spring-summer growing season, according to a recent article written by Patrick Fox of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Mowing will be done twice along road shoulders and three times along sidewalks and medians. Crews have been instructed to drive their areas and report any instances where tall grass impedes traffic safety.

So much for aesthetics.

Traveling interstate highways can be a mind-numbing experience. In North Carolina —

where I recently spent a week

on vacation — motorists are offered something to look at besides the seemingly endless

display of billboards and

asphalt.

The state's transportation department maintains roughly 2,000 acres of annual, perennial, and North Carolina wildflowers on primary roads and interstate routes.

First impressions count. Which brings me to Gwinnett.

Chuck Warbington, executive director of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District, knows the county, as well as the state, face dire financial straits. The state Department of Transportation is mowing along state routes once a year instead of twice in an attempt to save about $11 million.

And Gwinnett has shaved millions off its $1.7 billion budget for 2009. Still, Warbington says, it's a tad too easy to cut programs that aid aesthetics, to mow less to save money.

"It shouldn't be as easy as it is," he told me. "Gwinnett is very aggressive in bringing business in, but if you come in and you've got trash all over the place and litter along the road, and you're competing with [well-maintained] places like Raleigh, North Carolina, it leaves an impression."

Because of the reduction in roadside maintenance, the Gwinnett Village CID pays for weekly right-of-way and sidewalk maintenance that includes

mowing, edging and litter cleanup.

It maintains 12 miles of state and 14 miles of county right-of-way and expects to add more. The Gwinnett Place and Evermore CIDs maintain roads and gateways in their respective districts as well.

This season, Warbington said he's been getting calls from businesses within the district complaining about three-foot grass in the medians.

They want the Gwinnett Village to take care of it, but the agency can't maintain every street within the district, which is bordered by Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Buford Highway and Beaver Ruin Road.

"We're trying to add more roads," he said.

For now, though, Warbington said the county, especially the unincorporated areas, needs more of what he calls "community champions."

That's a group of like-minded citizens or organizations who don't mind taking a weed cutter to waste-high grass and picking up litter.

Who take pride in their Gwinnett, who uphold the county slogan.

And where it's safe to do so, help keep it clean and beautiful.

Rick Badie, an Opinion columnist, is based in Gwinnett. Reach him at rbadie@ajc.com or 770-263-3875.

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