Budgets and Enforcement
Good maintenance is based on budget priorities. The key reason for long-term survival of successful public roadsides is appropriate maintenance. The commitment to high-quality maintenance practices is a given for private, high-end ornamental landscapes, but for public roadside turf and plantings, there is no political, financial, or community support until things get bad. The money is almost always there, but priorities get shifted to more visible items. Public officials tend to ignore maintenance unless they hear public complaints. A deterrent to good maintenance is a limited budget. Someone must take the advocate role and remind others why lack of maintenance costs everyone.
There are ways to save. Choosing either in-house or external contractors is a dilemma for public agencies. A clear decision needs to be made—does the agency want to be in the landscape maintenance business, or do they want to use external contractors? In-house, government agency staff without competition can become complacent about quality.
With only a few external contractors having the equipment and labor to handle large-scale roadside maintenance, bids can go sky-high. If your agency is getting over-priced bids for maintenance from external contractors, you need to do thoughtful contract negotiations based on the input from experienced, in-house staff. Breaking up statewide contracts into smaller regions can encourage participation from smaller contractors helps, too. If agencies commit to external contractors, they must also commit to great, in-house staff to negotiate and monitor contracts.
You might save money by limiting maintenance services to only the essential tasks. Identify essential components in maintenance specifications, and emphasize them until money becomes available for the extras. This cost-saving technique works best if you escrow funds for a major maintenance project make-over every few years. There are ways to make it all work within a budget.
Maintenance of roadside plant material is only as good as the contract specifications and contract enforcement. How do you establish a good contract enforcement policy? Trained contract monitors that understand the specifications and regularly visit the sites are needed. Now that digital photos are so inexpensive, they can be very effective in providing evidentiary illustrations of issues that need to be addressed. Any major contract disputes can be escalated to technical experts within the agency. Consistent enforcement according to written specifications puts public roadside maintenance on the road to success.