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October 2005 Issue

Without Precedent or Sequel
Utah’s I-215 proved that native plantings could drastically reduce irrigation and maintenance along state highways. So why hasn’t Utah planted any more roadsides like it?

By Jan Striefel, FASLA

Without Precedent or Sequel
Craig Widmier

It’s been 14 years since the last plant was installed alongside I-215 in Utah’s Salt Lake Valley. When we at Salt Lake City-based Landmark Design started the highway project in 1988, we had a vision of a landscape that celebrated the beauty and inherent suitability of plants native to the Great Basin and the Rocky Mountains, a design that the public would embrace, and a landscape that the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) would find easy to maintain.

Fourteen years later, we are very pleased with the results. The I-215 landscape is virtually maintenance free and essentially self-sustaining, meets the requirements for a context-sensitive solution, and demonstrates the value and beauty of native plants. It also saves water: Only the four interchanges were ever irrigated, and those irrigation systems were disconnected after five years—despite two drought cycles, which in Utah last an average of four to six years.

With the welcome rains of 2005, the I-215 landscape has never looked better—a testament to the adaptability and tenacity of native plants and the wisdom of using them to enhance the places where people live. Nevertheless, UDOT hasn’t replicated the I-215 plantings anywhere in Utah, and it doesn’t currently plan to. Why?

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