- Associated Press - Thursday, February 23, 2017

VINCENNES, Ind. (AP) - Those traveling along U.S. 41 recently may have noticed something a little different.

Crews with the Indiana Department of Transportation have for months been working to clear away trees and overgrowth from its rights-of-way. Homes and businesses once hidden by dense vegetation can now be seen from the highway, the fence line there plainly visible to motorists.

INDOT spokesman Jason Tiller said crews with the Vincennes district - which stretches from Evansville to north to Sullivan - started the clearing project in early December and hope to wrap up in about three weeks.

The vegetation had gotten slightly out of hand, he said, as INDOT focused on other projects. Keeping it cut back, he said, is imperative, for a number of reasons.

The most pertinent, he said, is in being able to maintain the fence there with regular herbicide and mowing efforts.



It’s also safer, he said, for passers-by.

“Any time you have trees that grow up really tall, they can become a traffic hazard if they fall,” Tiller said. “So the best policy is to keep things at a manageable size, so (motorists) can be clear of any danger zones.”

Tiller also said INDOT sees the clearing project as a way of lending a hand to the endangered honeybee.

The honeybee was placed on the endangered species list last fall by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as its habitats are being lost to wildfires and the invasion of non-native species.

Massive overgrowth, Tiller said, only makes the situation worse.

“A lot of vegetation doesn’t promote pollination,” he said. “You’re not giving flowers and wild grasses the chance to grow and bloom. The things that promote pollinators die out, and the honey bees are left with no habitat.

“We want to make sure we are promoting a habitat for our bees. We see it as doing our part to make sure they get off the endangered species list.”

Tiller added that the clearing will allow INDOT crews to more effectively eliminate invasive plant species as a part of its routine herbicide and mowing programs.

All that aside, Tiller said they have fielded complaints from homeowners upset that motorists now have such a clear line of sight to their homes. The trees and vegetation had given them privacy and reduced traffic noise.

“It’s been a mixed bag,” Tiller said of the response to the ongoing clearing project. “A lot of people are happy about it, excited to see it cleaned up and looking nicer.

“But we’ve received complaints from people concerned about noise and things that aren’t necessarily desirable when you live right along the highway.

“It’s a hard situation,” Tiller said. “We have a responsibility to maintain the right-of-way and make sure it’s not creating a danger. We need to make sure it’s easily managed, so there is a balance there we have to find. We understand it’s an inconvenience, but in the long run, the benefits outweigh the negative.”

Mayor Joe Yochum said he’d received complaints from a handful of neighbors upset about the clearing. He understands, he said, but there isn’t anything the city can do.

“Now they can hear the highway noise,” the mayor said. “And I can understand why they’d be upset, but the only thing they can really do is register those complaints with (INDOT).

“And I have to wonder, maybe it will be better in the springtime when leaves are back on the trees. But we’ll have to wait and see.”

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Source: Vincennes Sun Commercial, https://bit.ly/2mmsx2x

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Information from: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, https://www.vincennes.com

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