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Education & Outreach

Sabal Palms
Ken Cheek District Two Landscape Architect Ken Cheek

The native sabal palm, also known as the cabbage palm, is found all over the state of Florida. This palm has been the designated state tree for Florida since 1953. It is proudly depicted on our state seal as well as on several specialty Florida vehicle plates. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, the sabal palm also has a long history of being used by Floridians for more than looks. Its fronds and trunks were commonly used to build shelters and the tender bud of the tree was once a common food source for Native Americans. The sabal palm has become an icon when thinking about Florida landscapes and is also an important, low-maintenance native palm tree that thrives in North Florida’s climate. These qualities make it an attractive option for inclusion in a right-of-way landscape.

Sabal Palm Each year, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) allocates 1.5% of its annual construction budget for landscaping, and District 2 diligently works to select flora that does more than just help beautify a right-of-way. Particular emphasis has been placed on preserving, utilizing, and reinforcing Florida’s natural vegetation, so sabal palms – along with native shrubs and large canopied trees – are typically incorporated in FDOT landscape designs. Native palms also helps ensure our landscaping is durable, efficient, cost-effective, and easily maintained.

Sabal Palm As a native plant, the sabal palm helps preserve and reinforce the state’s natural vegetation. But it has many other qualities that make it a good candidate for inclusion. Sabal palms are quite tough and can handle our Florida summer heat as well as some freezing in winter months. Sabal palms are also drought tolerant and does not require permanent irrigation. This is particularly helpful during the dry spells we have in North Florida in winter and spring months. In addition to their hardiness, sabal palms are also low-maintenance and typically do not require frequent or complex pruning.

Sabal palms are slow-growing, and research from the University of Florida indicates that the trunk grows only about six inches a year. This slow growth rate increases the tree’s longevity in the landscape and reduces the need to remove and replace palms frequently over time. Interestingly, this growth rate also impacts how sabal palms are cultivated for nurseries.

Sabal Palm While sabal palms work well in confined roadway locations, they look especially great when planted in groups and surrounded by grass, sand, or understory planting. Combined with other Florida friendly plants and trees, the iconic sabal palm helps District 2 create beautiful landscapes for residents and visitors alike to enjoy along Florida’s roadways.

Past DLA Articles
Educate — The Public, Officials, and Engineers
WHY so much roadway construction?
  • Florida is growing, recently becoming the third most populated state. Florida is also a major attraction for tourism and business opportunities.
  • The need for more traffic capacity is evident with increased travel times and highly congested roadways.
  • When more capacity is necessary FDOT typically uses existing state right-of-way first to expand. As property values increase, so do the costs of purchasing new right-of-way.
WHERE can we landscape?
  • Landscaping funds must be used within FDOT right-of-way.
  • Landscaping on any state roadway must meet horizontal clear zone requirements, which is different for each roadway depending upon roadway classification and design speed criteria
  • The clear zone is defined as the adjacent area starting at the edge of the travel lane, available for safe recovery by errant vehicles. This area may consist of a shoulder, a recoverable slope, a non-recoverable slope, and/or a clear runout area.
  • The Department must provide ample Sight distance issues- An unobstructed view of the upcoming roadway at all intersections.
  • Green space may contain Utilities (phone, cable, electric, gas lines) and drainage structures or swales.
  • Outdoor advertising too can impact where landscaping can be implemented.
WHEN can we landscape?
  • Post roadway construction projects typically are landscaped provided there is enough right-of-way. However, roadway construction constraints may have to be observed - Time adjustments made for weather, holidays and other time related construction issues.
  • Funding allocation cycles- spending 1.5 % of the construction budget per year on landscaping. As construction projects shift, so do landscaping projects and funding.
  • Established community priorities- We are listening and are trying to fit in community priorities for each.
WHAT landscape can be proposed?
  • District Two FDOT has developed a Landscape Branding Guideline to be consistent with the District’s objectives and approach for implementing consistent landscaping projects that are attractive, cost effective, constructible and minimizing long term maintenance activities. Factors include size, sustainability maintenance, consistency and safety.
  • Engineers and planners to account for existing vegetation and landscaping opportunities in Project Development and Design. The idea is this CANNOT wait until ground is broken on a construction project. Discussions take place during development of projects.
Outreach — Access to the Information

Increased access through enhanced approach:

  • Mapping of landscape and construction projects which will be published frequently
  • Availability of Landscape Architectural Professionals to Assist Citizens and Local Officials
  • Enhanced visualization capabilities and graphics provided by FDOT to show what a project will look like at completion.
Outreach to Stakeholders

Officials, Community Stakeholders, to Neighborhoods — We want you to know what we are up to!

  • Project Development Public Meetings We would be happy to meet on a regional basis and for specific projects - Educate about what can be done, vegetation impacts for specific projects and look at potential areas that could be landscaped. This stage is where we welcome public input on our plans and concepts.
  • Project Specific Public Meetings when applicable. We will represent FDOTree at public meetings where vegetation may be impacted. This may include road capacity projects and we will coordinate with our planning group to look at existing vegetation and provide input on what may be able to be saved. We also will try to identify impacted areas within 6 months of Construction. We will also provide Future Landscape Potential Renderings.
About FDOTree
What is FDOTree?
FDOTree is a District 2 Outreach Program designed to improve communications with project partners and to facilitate internal discussions with FDOT Engineers regarding all things associated with landscaping.
Why was FDOTree created?
This program was developed for two essential reasons. One, to establish landscaping as an integral part of roadway design for state projects early in the design process. Two, to provide information to the public regarding state projects that environmentally impact the community.
What else can FDOTree provide?
FDOTree was also created to educate the District and the public on the multiple requirements needed to accommodate landscape development within State ROW. District landscaping projects are continually being developed, planned and programmed in a multi-year process which is subject to budget allocations, design and construction schedules and prioritization of projects Districtwide. To facilitate a greater community awareness of the changing dynamics of delivering landscape projects in the District, FDOTree is envisioned as a means to provide the most current planning information to the public for greater awareness of the program.
What can FDOTree landscape?
At a minimum all projects must meet FDOT criteria and be located “on system” within state Right of Way. This typically means alongside interstates and state roadways. This includes FDOT retention ponds and along soundwalls. Funding for improvements are primarily restricted to landscape and irrigation features. Streetscaping projects that primarily consist of hardscaping items such as benches, kiosks, trash receptacles or lighting are not eligible.
Project Selection
What is the Work Program?
Each District in the state manages and funds FDOT projects through their Work Program. Essentially it is a budgetary road map for future improvements. Every project in District 2 is prioritized through the Work Program to establish a reasonable budget and schedule for design and construction activities. Typically, project identification, funding and construction is a multi-year process.
How are landscaping projects identified?
The District continually reviews our District work program to evaluate roadway projects which may be a candidate for landscape improvements. The District also considers recommendations and requests for landscaping provided from municipalities and the community. The District is always on the lookout for potential projects. Sometimes this means an independent location absent of any roadway work and sometimes this means a landscaped project is desired as a follow-up after a roadway project.
What does it mean that a project is considered a "candidate"?
The FDOT Work Program is refined daily to balance each District’s budget in compliance with the annual budget. New projects under consideration for future fiscal year funding are identified as candidate projects. As a candidate project, projects are evaluated and weighted against all District needs to determine priorities for funding. Once a candidate project achieves the needed requirements for funding the project is slotted for design and construction in future fiscal years. Candidate projects must then become adopted to become programmed and funded projects. Once adopted, projects are reviewed, and schedules are fixed for design and construction.
What happens after a landscaping project is identified?
All potential landscape projects are reviewed to ensure compliance with FDOT criteria and current Design Standards. Once all compliance standards are confirmed a project is then further refined and identified as a candidate project in the District Work Program. All candidate projects are considered as placeholders until the projects are vetted and approved for adoption into the Work Program. Once projects are adopted as a viable project they are vetted further for annual evaluation.
How difficult is it to landscape FDOT Right of Way?
This varies from project to project. Not all roadways within State ROW can be landscaped. Numerous challenges dictate when, where and how a State roadway can be landscaped. Challenges to be addressed include limited ROW, appropriate safety setback criteria, sight visibility, legal views to permitted Outdoor Advertising Signs, current and future roadway construction and District budgetary limitations.
Project Construction
How are landscaping budgets developed?
Landscape budgets are developed on a case by case basis. If the project is located in a higher priority location the Department will most likely recommend that a project be a high profile project and utilize larger materials. The Department has executed several high profile projects over the years and have found that larger materials are advantageous to the Department. Not only do the larger materials look more dramatic but have a better survival rate during construction than smaller materials. Of course, the size of the materials depends on the project profile which includes location, budget or environmental factors. There are times in which a project is designed with smaller materials if the consensus is this will make a better overall project.
How long does it take to design a landscape project?
This depends upon the complexity and public involvement of a project. Complex projects (such as urban interstate interchanges) may take up to 24 months to design. By statute the Department only hires Registered Landscape Architects to design state landscape projects. Time is allocated to negotiate contracts, inventory locations, survey station points, coordinate with utilities, research past and future nearby projects, develop programmatic concepts, meet with stakeholders, prepare initial design, meet with Department, respond to review comments, refine design, respond to secondary review comments and prepare the final design. If a project is considered high profile with considerable public interest this too can add months to design.
How long does it take to get a landscaping project built?
In general, it can take anywhere from 2-5 years to completely process a project our Work Program depending upon the complexity of any given project. In some cases, it could take longer.
How long does it take to physically construct a landscaping project?
This depends upon the complexity, scope and location of the project but on average most projects range from 6 to 12 months.
Wouldn’t smaller landscaping trees be easier to establish?
Not always. While smaller materials use less water we have found that this can be an issue contractually. Since we primarily execute low bid contracts, it may be to the contractor’s advantage not to bid heavily on establishment items such as water for smaller materials. While the Department contractually requires materials that decline to be replaced, a contractor always has the option to simply replace smaller trees if deemed unacceptable. Replacing trees during the establishment period has its own complications. This approach shortens the establishment period for this plant and most likely will not receive sufficient water as well. Conversely, when using larger materials we have found that contractors are less likely to wager on the these materials because they cannot afford the financial impact of replacing trees. It is more economical to water the materials correctly in the first place.
Community Involvement
Will there be a public meeting for every landscaping project?
No. Not all projects have the same level of interest or require the same level of public involvement. The Department cannot reasonably be expected to meet on each and every project. However, the FDOTree Program does plan occasional meetings with interested community stakeholders to provide an update on the current projects within the Work Program. These meetings are proposed to serve as a source of communication between the Department and the community for upcoming landscaping projects.
How can my voice be heard? I have design ideas.
Comments may be sent directly to our website for FDOTree review and consideration. Please note that while you may have a good idea it must be understood that there is no guarantee that outside recommendations will be implemented. Landscaping is subjective and we do not intend to design projects by committee. Not only do we have to budgets and schedules to maintain, it does not service our designer to expose themselves professionally. All design consultants are liable from a legal standpoint and they are not contractually obliged to consent to outside influences. None of our roadway engineering is designed by outside volunteers. Neither is our drainage, structures or lighting contracts. Please understand, the Department must consider numerous factors when designing landscaping projects. While we welcome public input, we will not pursue design approval from independent stakeholders.

SRA1A Fort George Inlet Landscaping Project

This award-winning project was designed to protect offshore migrating seabirds that were flying from conservation islands in the Atlantic Ocean over SRA1A to freshwater retention ponds. The direct low flight paths of these birds were encountering traffic on SRA1A and was causing concern with various stakeholders. Landscaping was considered as the best alternative to assist altering the flight paths to increase lift over the roadway. The landscaping plan consists of dune/berm installation as part of the project include sand live oak, saw palmetto, southern red cedar, slash pine, cabbage palm, yaupon holly and dune sunflower. The project also included installation of a temporary irrigation system to support the new plantings.

Award Ceremony June 2021 Award Ceremony June 2021
The project was submitted and won the 2021 ACEC-FL Outstanding Environmental Project Award in June 2021.

Project Start: Summer 2020
Completion: Late 2020
Project #: 441283-1
Road: State Road A1A (Hecksher Drive)
County: Duval
City: Jacksonville

Past FDOTree Spotlights
Arbor Day Award
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