The roadside right-of-way serves many purposes– it provides space to escape crashes, creates a sense of openness that contributes to driving ease, improves sight distances, provides space for maintenance activities, such as snow removal and storage, and provides an area that allows for proper road drainage. However, overhanging trees, brush and weeds can grow into a serious safety concern for road users, especially in and around power and telephone lines, highway medians and along the roadside.

The Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC) has instituted policies to help keep these areas reasonably clear, including plans to conduct roadside brush control using herbicides. The program is designed to contain roadside brush that could obstruct motorists’ vision, create drainage problems or cause snow/ice problems if left unchecked.

How is the program conducted?

The WCRC uses an integrated approach to control roadside brush and branches using:

  • Hand cutting
  • Mechanical devices
  • Herbicides

Hand clearing and mowing are expensive and cannot be used safely in all areas. Specifically trained, licensed and experienced professionals selectively apply the herbicides to specific vegetation that could create a driving hazard. This spot spraying along local unplatted and primary roads is done on a rotating basis in one quarter of the county late each summer. The operation is not a continuous broadcast spray – only those roadside areas where existing brush and limbs create safety hazards are sprayed.

Frequently Asked Questions

How safe are the herbicides?

The WCRC’s contractor, G and T Services, applies Tordon K – Escort, a drift control additive, and NU-Film-IR chemicals approved by both the Michigan Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Toxicological studies of both long-term and short-term, high-level exposures have shown these chemicals to be safe – in fact, in terms of lethal dosage, safer than substances like caffeine and aspirin. A copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet and the product specimen label for these are available at the WCRC office.

Do I have a choice regarding the brush spray?

If property owners would rather not have brush sprayed along the roadside of their property, owners must clear the brush and limbs before the spraying program begins annually. Property owners must remove brush and low hanging limbs at minimum fourteen (14) feet up and fourteen (14) feet away from the traveled portion of the right-of-way (14 feet from the edge of the road). Property owners must also have permission from WCRC prior to the time frame specified by WCRC. If the roadside vegetation control efforts have not been accomplished within the permitted time frame, an application of an herbicide may occur.

WCRC has an optional no-spray letter of understanding form for property owners that wish to agree to maintain property frontage. You can download the form here. Copies are also available at the WCRC office.

Does the Road Commission really want property owners to assume responsibility for their own property?

The WCRC considers roadside maintenance a team effort and is pleased to have property owners as partners in this vital safety program. This is why the WCRC is eager to accommodate property owners who prefer to handle brush control themselves. This kind of joint effort benefits both WCRC and the property owners

How do I know if my area is targeted for spraying this year?

Approximately one-quarter of the county is sprayed annually.A given area will only be sprayed once every four years. WCRC will spray in Sharon, Freedom, Manchester, Bridgewater and Saline Townships in August 2017.  The future schedule for spraying is as follows:

  • 2018- Ypsilanti, Pittsfield, Lodi, York, and Augusta
  • 2019 – Webster, Dexter, Lyndon, Sylvan, and Lima
  • 2020-Salem, Northfield, Scio, Ann Arbor, and Superior

Further information is available through the Road Commission by contacting Adam Lape at (734)327-6697, or lapea@wcroads.org.

Why doesn’t WCRC just mow the roadside?

Roadside mowing can be unsafe in certain circumstances. Additionally, mowing results in a wholesale reduction in vegetation, rather than just invasive or undesirable plants. Mowing also does not prevent re-growth; it is only a short term solution and requires frequent, ongoing mowing to keep vegetation under control. Brush will often re-sprout into many more stems than were originally cut, actually causing brush to become more dense.

Why don’t crews clear roads without the use of herbicide?

Hand clearing and mowing are expensive and cannot be done safely in all areas. Specifically trained, licensed and experienced professionals selectively apply herbicides to specific vegetation that could create a driving hazard. The chemical application is faster than cutting and mowing. The Road Commission does not have enough staff to keep up with brush and it can become a major problem if left unchecked.

Is it safe for me to walk my pets after an application has taken place?

Yes.  It is safe to come into contact with areas after the herbicide has dried.   If pets lick their feet after walking through a treated area it is advisable to rinse their feet with water, although the application rate presents very little risk to pets or people

Other agencies that apply herbicide to roadsides:

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) applies herbicide to state trunkline (highway) routes statewide.  In addition to MDOT, multiple county road commissions apply herbicides to roadsides to manage roadside vegetation, including Muskegon, Kalamazoo, Clinton, Eaton, Tuscola, Saginaw, Hillsdale, and Delta Counties.