Finding a Creative Way to Blossom
By John Robin Witt, Caltrans Journal Editor
A new public-private partnership to improve the appearance of areas surrounding freeways is spreading throughout California. The innovative approach provides private sponsors an opportunity to make California’s highways more attractive — while giving Caltrans’ partners a bit of a green commercial push.
Modeled after the highly successful Caltrans Adopt-A-Highway Program, the new Enhanced Landscape Planting (ELP) demonstration program, enlists sponsors to install and maintain highly detailed plantings along state highways and freeways in the Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County and San Francisco Bay areas.
While government revenues are shriveling, Toyota Motor Corporation and Greenroad Media, along with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps and several other private concerns, are cultivating more attractive urban roadways while improving the Department’s bottom line as Caltrans’ first ELP partners.
Toyota is only the first of many potential sponsors, and it has chosen to use the “Floralscape” concept, which uses computer-generated patterns to guide landscapers in positioning flower masses into complex scenes along the right-of-way. The program does not specify this type of planting. Rather, the ELP allows for more detailed planting to be installed.
The Caltrans Office of Landscape Architecture, under the leadership of Keith Robinson, worked for many years to develop a public-private partnership to reduce roadside maintenance costs, improve the maintenance of existing roadside planting, and maintain the state’s investment in roadside improvements.
“We have been very creative in trying to implement Assembly Bill 3132 since its passage in 1994,” said Robinson, Principal Landscape Architect in Sacramento. “The legislation allowed for the installation of planted logos within state right-of-way.”
“Careful plant selection, use of the latest irrigation technology, and stringent water management techniques will provide for an attractive roadside not possible with limited state resources,” Robinson added.
The legislation was intended to provide maintenance for existing landscaped areas in exchange for sponsor recognition through logos of businesses or other entities. However, the state law conflicted with federal regulations that prohibit the use of highway right-of-way for advertising purposes. The legislation expired in 2002, and the program languished until Greenroads Media came to Caltrans in 2007 in an attempt to revive the spirit of the original legislation, but in a way that would not run afoul of federal or state restrictions.
Caltrans now has a useful concept that works for all the involved parties. In the Los Angeles area, for example, it means colorful roadside flower displays that the private partners design, plant and maintain — at no cost to the state.
The first of these plantings was unveiled in August 2009 on the Pasadena Freeway (State Route 110 at Cesar Chavez/Sunset Avenue). Two others are planned on the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10) westbound at Lincoln, eastbound I-10 at National/Overland, and one each on other Los Angeles-area interstates: Ventura Freeway (US 101) northbound at Louise Avenue, San Diego Freeway (I-405) northbound at Orange Avenue, Pomona Freeway (SR-60) westbound at Lorena Sreet, and Foothill Freeway (I-210) which is not yet confirmed. Bay Area scapes are scheduled for the Redwood Freeway (US 101) at Rowland Boulevard and the Junipero Serra Freeway (I-280) in Santa Clara.
“Through this innovative partnership with Toyota, we are able to improve the look of freeway landscaping, make necessary upgrades to aging or damaged irrigation systems, and save tax dollars,” said Raja Mitwasi, Chief Deputy Director for Caltrans District 7, which encompasses Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
The first ELP site is almost one-quarter acre in size, is irrigated with non-potable water, uses solar-generated electricity for lighting, and employs ecologically responsible insect and fungus control.
And, what does Caltrans get in return? It receives greater attention to roadside maintenance because the ELP partner is responsible for roadside maintenance for an area of three to 10 acres, or more, as appropriate for each ELP site. Caltrans also gains valuable assistance in protecting slope stability along highways, better water quality, and improved highway aesthetics. New plantings must conform to existing landscape themes and acknowledge the need to conserve California’s precious water resources. In addition, the ELP partner will keep the interstate right-of-way clear of litter and weeds.
Here’s how the first ELP partnership came together. Greenroad Media worked out a relationship between businesses and Caltrans, to help beautify the highway under the new ELP Program guidelines. It then worked with Caltrans employees to locate appropriate and safe high-traffic and high-visibility sites along the highway to create Floralscapes composed of vivid flowers, plants and other natural materials.
In the Los Angeles area, Greenroad Media completed computer-generated patterns for Floralscape plantings on the roadside, consisting of thousands of individual plants that attempt to convey sustainable or “green” concepts.
Using their own Living Pixel System™, Greenroad Media composed computer-designed images that serve as the template for the roadside floral works of art that can be customized for each sponsor. This technology produces a pixilated graphic that guides the installation of the roadside floral displays. The computer program creates a grid system in which each pixel represents a single flowering plant. Each flower is then planted in a precise spot in “eco-crates” made from recycled plastic. The roadside plantings are “refreshed” three times during a four-month period, then replaced for another 16 weeks.
And the floral works create “green sprouts” in the economy. The flowers and plants are grown, assembled, installed and maintained by local businesses, which helps California’s economy to bloom. Moreover, sponsors pledge to revitalize and make permanent improvements around each Floralscape by planting new shrubs and updating damaged irrigation systems.
Areas surrounding the Floralscapes will be maintained by the nonprofit Los Angeles Conservation Corps, which provides training, education and work experience for at-risk young adults and school-aged youths.
Other private partners include:
- • Altman Plants, which grows most of the flowers at its Perris and Vista facilities in Southern California.
• Cal Blend Soils of Irwindale prepares the site and installs the plants.
• SQLA, a landscape architecture firm, works on the Floralscapes and other submissions for the permitting process.
• Rain for Rent provides the water tank and solar pumps for irrigation.
The ELP Program will run through March 2011 when Caltrans will assess the program and determine whether to continue it.