BERLIN — Work to clear invasive plant species and potentially hazardous trees from a section of Route 50 is moving at a brisk clip, according to State Highway Administration (SHA) officials, and is part of a larger project to unclutter Maryland’s roads.
“It’s an invasive species project,” said SHA representative Charlie Gischlar. “We’re doing it all across the state.”
Locally, that project covers a seven-mile stretch of Route 50 from Friendship Road to the Wicomico County line. Sections of the median are currently choked with non-native plants that are both an eyesore and possibly dangerous if left unchecked, according to Gischlar.
“Specifically, what we’re dealing with down here on the shore are invasive vines such as Japanese honeysuckle and particularly the mile-a-minute weed … it can literally strangle native plants,” said Gischlar. “The Japanese honeysuckle is the very same way. It’s totally prolific and it displaces the native species of plants.”
Additionally, there are several weak or dead trees roadside that represent potential safety problems such as fallen limbs.
“There are also, on that corridor, trees that we’ve deemed hazardous because they are very close to the highway and they are either dying or dead totally outright,” Gischlar said. “And if a good storm comes you might have one of those trees fall on the road and it becomes a major safety issue.”
Many of those trees are being worsened in condition by the cloying invasive plants, he added. Beyond the risk of fallen limbs, there are issues with sight distance, drainage and simple aesthetics, according to Gischlar. All of this led SHA to begin the project statewide, with the Wicomico and Worcester section starting in April and anticipated to go until early-November. Gischlar confirmed that work is on schedule and crews are about 30-percent done.
While the clearing is being handled mostly during the day, Gischlar said there should be little-to-know interruption to traffic flow at any time. The total cost of the project is $950,000 and will include the SHA’s next stop, a 12-mile stretch on Route 13 in Worcester heading into Somerset County and encompassing the clearing of seven wetland sites. The next phase is expected to start in the spring of 2014.
The SHA’s efforts have been recognized with a Federal Highway Administration Environmental Excellence Award for 2013.
“This is going to enable native plants in the region to thrive naturally and flourish,” said Gischlar.