January 31, 1992
Preston ("Darth Vader") Kelley, Director
Caltrans District 4
P.O. Box 7310
San Francisco, California 94120
Re: Caltrans' Pesticide Spraying
Dear Mr. Kelley:
When do you plan to stop spraying pesticides along our roads? They are hazardous to human health and to wildlife. Many are suspected carcinogens, break down blood cells, cause skeletal deformities, interfere with sperm production, or damage the central nervous system. There is plenty of evidence to justify an immediate halt to pesticide use.
Not only are there many harmless alternatives, but those alternatives require more labor, and hence create more jobs. They include the use of steam, or simple hand weeding. All of the homeless people of California could be employed to weed and remove trash along our roads, and everyone would benefit -- the environment, the homeless, and the economy. For once, Caltrans would be able to project the image of helping people, instead of bulldozing or steamrollering them! Wouldn't you like to improve your image?
While I am on the subject of roadsides, the current practice of leaving road cuts barren causes erosion and requires an enormous amount of maintenance, besides being ugly. I would like to see Caltrans required to replant all road cuts with local vegetation (no exotics, which damage the local ecology). Then all roads could be as beautiful as Highway 101 between Salinas and San Luis Obispo. Today's roads seem to be designed by engineers (or worse, computers), with no concern for beauty, wildlife, human feelings, or anything else except physics.
Besides planting roadsides, Caltrans should be required to put the road in a tunnel every place where wildlife (or humans! Have you ever tried to cross a multi-lane freeway on foot?) need to cross it. Wildlife need to be able to cross the road without having to climb over or go under it -- ideally, they should hardly be aware that there is a road, and the tunnels should be long enough that they are not forced into a dangerous open area that exposes them to predators.
Perhaps you don't know that I got my start in the job world in the Materials Lab of the Washington State Highway Department! I sifted sand for a summer, and then graduated to pouring asphalt through tubes. The following two summers, I programmed their computers, including plotting roadway cross-sections faster than the manufacturer of the plotter had been able to do. My other early connection to highways is that my mom died in a car accident in 1951, when I was 8.
I remember coming to California in 1961 and being most impressed with the quality and beauty of its highways. Let's work together to restore Caltrans to the model for the world that it should and can be. Please respond to each point!
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.