State Wastes Taxpayer Money: Landscape Dying Along Freeway

Does the state of California have money to waste?

You would think so, if you drive along Fresno's Highway 168, you will see dozens of dead trees and brush.

Taxpayer money wasted on landscaping, drying-up in the summer sun on one of the Valley's newest freeways.

Cal Trans says back in May crooks ripped off several sections of copper wire -- wire that powers the sprinkler systems and the state agency does not have the money to fix it right now.

Lee Ayres with Tree Fresno is concerned.

"Some of the trees dying are mature trees, and that really concerns us, because there is an air quality benefit, and of course it's noticeable. It affects the appearance of our community," Ayres said.

Tree Fresno estimates 50 to 60 trees along the freeway have died.

Caltrans, Chief Public Information Officer Jose Camarena said, "Caltrans is currently trying to secure additional funding to replace the affected electrical systems that operate our landscape watering, as well as the installation of alternative security methods to keep future thefts from occurring."

Until then more trees and shrubs will likely die, costing taxpayers even more money.

"You not only have to buy the tree, you have fuel equipment, labor, as well as any damage done to the irrigation. You might be looking at $150 a tree and up," Ayres said. "Plus the loss of the benefit of a mature tree. Often the benefits don't accrue until they reach 10 or 15 years old."

Ayres and others are concerned the 'Gateway to the Sierra' will look more like a brown mess before too long.

Camarena says Caltrans hopes to replace the trees sometime this fall. But the state agency need to receive the funding.