Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Rest at 'em, don't trash 'em

By Andrea E. Petrich

I love that safety rest areas exist. I don't love how some of my fellow travelers treat them.

While I use them for everything from rest room breaks, to stretching my legs, to grabbing a quick nap, others litter, damage facilities and take advantage of resources.

We have 47 rest areas across the state cared for by our maintenance crews. Most of us who use these facilities also help with the upkeep by respecting the area and following the rules. Lately, however, there have been people taking advantage of these public facilities.

Crews have seen everything from a man with a baseball bat smashing sinks and toilets, to a woman bringing her personal trash down a few times a week to dispose of it instead of paying to do it elsewhere, to people staying much longer than the eight-hour maximum.

While there are many abuses of these taxpayer-funded spaces that run up costs, most recently it has been trash causing the biggest problems.
This garbage - including the mail box - shouldn't be left at rest areas. Animals often break into bags
and scatter garbage, making it even more time-consuming for crews to clean up.

Across the state we spend $3.2 million a year on janitorial and garbage costs at our rest areas – including $615,000 just for the eight rest areas in King, Snohomish and Whatcom counties. Any additional cost due to abuse of our facilities means that's money and worker time that can't be used for other maintenance projects. While we expect and encourage people to throw away personal items and small amounts of trash that accumulate in your car during road trips, we do not allow:
  • Leftover construction materials
  • Personal trash brought down from your home
  • Large items you don't want to pay to take away from home or work
  • Other items outside of diapers, properly wrapped pet waste, feminine hygiene products, small amounts of vehicle trash, picnic trash
Left: Rest area trash cans aren't the best place to leave household trash or boxes. They should be recycled and taken to proper transfer stations. Right: This large bag of trash was left behind at our Custer Rest Area.
Things like this shouldn't be flushed, obviously.
To help keep budgets in place while still providing trash facilities for the traveling public you may notice some changes if you're a rest area regular at Smokey Point or other northwestern Washington stops. In some areas we've:
  • Removed larger dumpsters
  • Moved some larger receptacles to higher volume/well lighted areas
  • Added smaller trash cans to each restroom to assist with personal trash disposal
Our maintenance crews will keep working to keep these areas clean and available for your needs while traveling. We partner with Washington State Patrol, which enforces laws at rest areas. To report a facility issue, including trash, you can contact us at HQCustomerService@wsdot.wa.gov. If you're ever concerned with safety or have an emergency issue at a rest area, please call 9-1-1.

Together we can help keep these facilities in good shape for those of us who need to use them to safely travel our Washington highways.