Ask Amy: Weeds Gone Wild

By Amy Davis

HOUSTON - Drivers are asking Amy about weeds gone wild.

You may have noticed them, too. High grass and shrubs are making a tangled mess of the medians and grassy areas alongside Houston area highways and interstates. Some of them are in the same spot where we showed you the state investing more than $2 million to landscape just last year.

KPRC Local 2 investigative reporter Amy Davis asked the state for answers.

Have you guys seen the weeds? Along U.S. Highway 59 and Interstate 10, some of the weeds are 4 feet high. And then there are the crops. Yes, Houston, it seems we have a bumper crop of corn all along the Southwest Freeway.

When they say "Don't mess with Texas," the Texas Department of Transportation means it. It seems the new slogan could be "Don't touch a thing; not even the weeds."

"If they think we're a cowboy state now, just wait until they see all the weeds," Houston driver Tracy James said of visitors to the area.

Davis saw the weeds on I-10 near Dairy Ashford and all up and down Highway 59. So we asked TxDOT how the weeds are "keeping Texas beautiful?"

"It's a real issue," TxDOT spokeswoman Raquelle Lewis said.  "We are in a situation where we're having to make a lot of cutbacks in a number of areas, and mowing is one of those areas."

Lewis said TxDOT simply doesn't have the money to mow as often as it used to. Whereas crews used to cut the grass six times a year, now the state has cut back to only three mows a year.

"They are very slim times in terms of where the dollars are and we're trying to make the most of them," Lewis said.

Some say TxDOT should have thought of that last year when it spent $2.2 million of your tax dollars for landscaping along the Southwest Freeway from Montrose to Stafford, planting ornamental native plants and grasses.

Last year, TxDOT spokeswoman Karen Othon told Local 2 Investigates, "It's a landscaping project that is to go in and beautify our roadways."

Eighteen months later, most areas along the Southwest Freeway are a tangled mess of weeds. To our surprise, TxDOT's Landscape Architect Dana Cote told us everything is growing as planned.

"That's what it's supposed to look like?" Davis asked Cote.

"For all practical intents and purposes, that's what we expected it to look like," Cote replied.

Cote said the native grasses and shrubs planted last year are supposed to strangle the Johnson grass and weeds so the areas won't require as much maintenance; but he says it could take a couple of years for that to happen.

"It has been that high in the past before, but what we've done is added some flowering shrubs and grasses that add a little bit of interest and color to the area," Cote explained. 

Interest and color? Driver Laimont Tubbs says it's interesting, all right.

"If you're trying to give the jungle effect, I think they're doing a good job, if they're trying to give the jungle effect," laughed Tubbs.

And then there's the crop growing right next to the Southwest Freeway.  Cote said it's a first for him to see a crop growing on the side of a major highway in Houston. 

"I thought it was sorghum," he said. "But a lot of people call in and say, 'Hey, what about the corn growing on the right of way?' So I'm not sure exactly what plant it is. It should grow itself out and die off and take care of itself."

TxDOT says the corn or sorghum likely started growing after seed spilled off of a truck headed to a farm. Now that it's taken root, TxDOT says it's too expensive to set up traffic control and send crews out to remove the crop. Cote says it will either die out or they'll cut it down in the next mowing cycle along Highway 59.  That might not be until next May.

TxDOT says it has had to funnel all of the tax dollars and stimulus money towards infrastructure so it can still maintain and build roads. The department pared down debris removal and mowing.

If you have a consumer question to "Ask Amy," send her an e-mail.Copyright 2006 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.