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Tuesday, Mar 25 2014 05:59 PM

Lush freeway landscaping could go by wayside

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Parts of Highway 178, shown in a February 2014 file photo, are to get new sprinklers.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

In the future, some state highways in metropolitan Bakersfield could look a lot more like their counterparts in Arizona, Caltrans officials said Tuesday.

That's because the Grand Canyon State has a history of doing without something California lacks only sporadically: water.

Following Gov. Brown's drought declaration in January, Caltrans has reduced its watering of highway landscaping by at least 50 percent in Kern County.

As Bakersfield faces its third parched year, Caltrans plans to replace some landscaping along Highway 99 with "hardscape" a la Arizona.

A Caltrans official questioned the durability and appearance of artificial turf during a videoconference meeting Tuesday with agencies including Keep Bakersfield Beautiful, the Bakersfield Homeless Center and Kern County Sheriff's Office.

"I think overall we prefer to have more of a desert landscape like Arizona (rather) than trying to fake some kind of greenery," said John Liu, Caltrans District 6 director of maintenance and operations.

"They're a desert just like much of the Central Valley," Liu said later in an interview. "One of the things we've found in the past in California, we have a certain expectation of what we want our freeways to look like. That's just something that's just no longer manageable."

The agency's first move will be installing approximately 66 Toro Sentinel sprinkler controllers along local roadways during the next 60 days, at a cost of about $2.2 million.

The Sentinels will do a better job than Caltrans' current controllers -- some of which are about 20 years old -- of shutting down broken water lines and alerting workers, and turning off when it rains.

"Imagine having a Macintosh computer from 1984 to what we have now. It's basically that," said Jay Asistin, Caltrans maintenance supervisor. "Usually when it rains, we're on emergency, accidents and what-not, so it's hard for us to get out there and turn the water off. But with this we should be able to turn it off right from my office."

During the summer of 2015, Caltrans plans to spend a little more than $2 million replacing landscaping along Highway 99 from Planz Road to California Avenue with hardscape -- textured colored pavement or areas of rocks.

These will go into what are called "gores" -- the triangular areas between highways and on- or off-ramps -- and turn-out areas for maintenance vehicles.

In other news at Tuesday's meeting, KCSO employees reported 43 people have been issued citations for hauling uncovered loads of trash, under a new county program begun in October.

In February, Orlando Pruneda became the first person ever to serve jail time for hauling an uncovered load of trash.

Pruneda was pulled over Dec. 16 by Kern County Sheriff's deputies in the McFarland area and cited for the uncovered load and driving on a suspended or revoked license.

When Pruneda failed to appear, an arrest warrant was issued Jan. 14. He was taken into custody Feb. 20 near Delano.

Having served 14 days, Pruneda pleaded guilty in Kern County Superior Court March 6 to driving on a suspended or revoked license. He received three years probation.

The charge of hauling an uncovered load -- probably where Pruneda's troubles began -- was dismissed.

"I'm assuming he was pulled over for the uncovered load," said Kern County Sheriff's Office Administrative Coordinator Wendy Vela, who attended the meeting. "They never would have caught him had he been driving with a covered load."

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