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Fairfax Officials Are Waist-Deep in Complaints

Fairfax Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova wades through a thriving plot on Braddock Road to demonstrate the problem of uncut grass. Board members are worried it could be a hazard to drivers.
Fairfax Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova wades through a thriving plot on Braddock Road to demonstrate the problem of uncut grass. Board members are worried it could be a hazard to drivers. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"This is simply unacceptable," proclaimed Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

"It gives people the impression that their government isn't doing its job and doesn't care," added Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock).

Chimed in Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence): "This is really getting to be a matter of public safety."

One might think the county's top elected officials were talking about ending poverty or stemming a tide of crime. But something far more insidious is plaguing Fairfax County's suburban stretches: unmowed grass on public roadside land.

Along sidewalks and medians across the county, the grass is, er, growing. And growing. Surely supervisors know that this is generally the natural course of events in a suburb such as theirs. But it is an election year, after all. And with hundreds of complaints pouring into supervisors' offices, that translates into one unified message: Something must be done!

"This is all people are talking about," said Bulova, who agreed to traipse through waist-high grass in the median of Braddock Road on a recent weekday to demonstrate the problem. "It is so awful. It is unsafe. It is unsightly."

Plus, Bulova said half-jokingly, if the grass isn't mowed by September, it'll obscure everybody's campaign signs.

In fairness to Bulova and the other supervisors, mowing the medians is not the county's job. The responsibility belongs to the Virginia Department of Transportation, a point that is lost on most county residents. A recent survey revealed that more than 90 percent of residents believe that mowing is the county's responsibility, County Executive Anthony H. Griffin told supervisors last week.

That makes getting the grass cut all the more urgent for supervisors seeking to appear responsive to their constituents, they said.

Offered Griffin: "We need to put out a press release."

But VDOT is in the midst of a transportation funding crisis. Every year, the agency has had less money for road maintenance -- including mowing -- even as costs and responsibility for new roads increase.

Last year, VDOT decreased the number of mowings in Northern Virginia to three for the entire season. This year, it will do the same, said Renee Hamilton, assistant district engineer in the agency's Northern Virginia office. The first round of mowing began last week, she said. But with about 33,000 acres of grassy right-of-way to mow across Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties, the agency's contractors will need about six weeks to complete the cycle, she said.


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