By Chan Mahanta
- Member, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter
- Resident of the Old Jamestown area of North St. Louis County of which the roundabout project is a part
- Member of the St. Louis County Transportation Commission
- Past president of Old Jamestown Association
Native Plants in the Old Halls Ferry Road and Vaile Traffic Roundabout, North St. Louis County
In 2014, I was appointed to the St. Louis County Transportation Commission to represent our ward of North St. Louis County. During the vetting process, someone forwarded to the County authorities a blog post called NoCo Gardens about our Tall Grass Prairie and Native Plants garden/environment. [Editor’s note: That blog post no longer exists.] Thus during the interview, the native plants subject came up.
I expressed the desire to the Director of Transportation to see if I may be able to interest them in taking up native plants in their highway landscaping projects. I was told that the department did attempt to take that up for landscaping vacant lots created by demolition of derelict structure in certain neighborhoods. But the effort ran into opposition from neighbors for reasons such as: Looked scraggly and unkempt, grew too big, and became a security threat, etc.
I tried to explain that plant selection is critical, and that it does take native plants a few years to take hold and look pretty. But it was not exactly the proper forum to discuss the subject in detail. The Director of Transportation however was gracious enough to let me know that the Old Halls Ferry Rd/Vaile Traffic Circle in our neighborhood was getting ready for construction and requested the Chief Design Engineer to take up the issue of the possibility of incorporating native plants in its landscaping with me.
Shortly after I was confirmed to the Commission, in my first meeting, the Engineer gave me a copy of the landscaping plan for the project.
I am an architect by profession and have worked with landscape architects and in small, uncomplicated projects, prepared my own landscaping plans and specifications. So, having reviewed the Transportation Department prepared landscape plan, I made some recommendations to replace their standard planting.
The Engineer replied that their in-house landscape design staff did not have the expertise to specify native plants. So I developed a detailed sketch and planting specs. and e-mailed it to them. They appreciated my assistance.
Some time after that, I got word that the project had already been bid, and the contract had been awarded and making changes at that time would have incurred cost escalation, which they could not entertain. That was a disappointment, but knowing about budget limitations on public projects, I did not press the matter any more.
To be continued…