If you think you have a lot of grass to mow, try being a King County road worker assigned to cutting vegetation along 1,800 miles of roadway.
That’s the task every spring, summer and early fall, and it’s no picnic, officials note. But it’s important to motorist and pedestrian safety and for preventing brush fires.
“Our mowing schedule keeps us constantly busy from April through October,” said Tony Ledbetter, maintenance superintendent for the county’s Road Services Division. “It’s a combination of the sheer amount of roadside miles we have to maintain, the distances between unincorporated areas of the county, and a climate that really encourages plant growth.”
Uncontrolled vegetation can reduce sightlines for drivers. Also, hot summer weather dries out vegetation, creating a fire hazard.
To keep up, 13 large mowers are hauled around the county on a flatbed truck. Crews also have an assortment of smaller mowers, powered weed-cutters and hand-held equipment.
The largest mowers have heads that are four to six feet wide, but most roadside areas need more than one pass before vegetation is trimmed. Ledbetter said the work is measured in “pass miles,” the amount of miles the individual mowers spend going up and down the side of roads. Most summers, as many as 6,500 pass miles are racked up.
Summer is also when roads are patched or repaved, among other regular maintenance. And, because many county roads are two-lane and narrow, the mowing often blocks traffic, requiring flaggers to direct traffic. Officials try to schedule the work in a way that optimizes the use of equipment and personnel while minimizing disruptions for traffic.
“It’s great when people call us and tell us there is a problem area somewhere in the county where the vegetation is overgrown, but they sometimes don’t understand why we can’t just drop everything and hop over to that spot,” said Ledbetter. “If we did that each time we got a call, we’d get totally behind schedule.
“That’s not to say we let things sit, though. If we have an intersection or sightline that’s being blocked and the mower isn’t scheduled right away, we’ll get the weed-eaters on the worst part until we get back with the big mower.”
Problems on a county road can be reported by calling (206) 296-8100.Most people look at the shoulder of a road in unincorporated King County and see a Along with grass, weeds and blackberries to tackle, workers rarely have a flat, level surface to mow, Ledbetter noted.