We need everyone’s help in keeping our roadways clean – by securing loads, sharing the news or adopting a highway for cleanupBy Tina Werner
As the days become longer, spring is slowly beginning to show its telltale signs across the Pacific Northwest. And while we may be biased, it’s clear that Washington, with majestic mountains, rushing rivers, city lights and Pacific Ocean beaches, is one of the nation’s most gorgeous states.
Unfortunately, even with such stunning landscapes, people still choose to throw their leftover meals or abandoned mattresses on the side of our highways. Many of you have expressed concerns about the litter you are seeing along our highways, especially around this time of year. It saddens us as well, and we agree that litter greatly diminishes the natural beauty of our Evergreen State.
We spend more than $4 million annually to help clean our roadways but, sadly, even with such a large expenditure we’ve seen roadside trash increase for the past several years. In early spring it’s particularly noticeable because our recent work has focused on snow and ice removal and emergency repairs.
That’s why we need everyone’s help to keep our roadways clean.
|Adopt-A-Highway volunteers pick up roadside litter alongside I-5 in the Seattle area.|
Litter is a statewide problem
We get complaints about some state highways more than others, but roadside litter is a statewide problem.
In Seattle and Bellevue, I-5 is often where the most trash accumulates and where we get the most complaints. The high traffic amounts contribute to this, as do the growing homeless encampments in the area.
Further south, we see a lot of complaints about SR 410 in Bonney Lake. State Route 16 on both sides of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge is another hotspot along with sections of I-5 near the Tacoma Mall.
We try to respond to litter complaints promptly, but other maintenance needs – such as guardrail or pothole repair, emergency bridge or road repairs or preventative maintenance – are higher priorities.
Simply put, limited state funds and a long maintenance “to do” list, means litter clean up often falls to the bottom of the list.
Partnerships are key to addressing roadside litter
So, where does our litter money go? In fiscal year 2018 our agency spent $4.4 million on litter and roadway clearing including:
- Pick up and disposal of litter bags collected by groups or volunteers
- Pick up and disposal of large debris, such as furniture, tires and dead animals
- Payments to Department of Corrections work crews for litter pick up
- Administration of the Adopt-A-Highway program
Our maintenance crews pick up litter as time and resources allow. Our crews also pick up bags that other groups – Adopt-A-Highway, Ecology Youth Corps, etc. – gather and leave on the side of a highway.
We know litter is a far-reaching concern. That is why we must work with our partners – local government, businesses, law enforcement and the public -- to help get the job done together.
This includes sharing clean up responsibilities and working to raise awareness to prevent litter from happening in the first place.
One easy way to do this is by properly covering and tying down your loads before you hit the road – even on “just short trips” through town. It not only helps prevent litter, it’s also the law. Please also spread the word to friends, family and neighbors. Preventing trash from reaching roadways is the best and simplest way to reduce roadside trash.
Department of Corrections crews
We have collaborated with the Department of Corrections for several years to assist with roadside litter and other cleanup efforts on state rights of way. Their work crews are an invaluable addition to our overall efforts. In addition to DOC crews, in some locations, local county jail crews are also used for site cleanups. While they are an important resource, it’s important to note that the work crews cannot solve our litter problem single-handedly.
We’re always looking for more people to join our Adopt-A-Highway program where volunteers or corporations help clean a set section of roadway.
We know the work is not glamorous, but it is invaluable and participants know they’re doing something tangible in their own backyard to help their community. (We provide supplies and safety training to interested groups).
In 2016, we had nearly 1,400 volunteers and 300 sponsored contractors assist in removing litter on state highways. This equates to more than 20,000 bags of litter picked up and disposed of by our maintenance crews with approximately 4,341 miles of highway adopted.
|Pictured: Forks Elks Lodge #2524 and Forks Emblem Club #488 pick up litter|
on their Adopt-A-Highway route along US 101 in Clallam County.
Volunteers from left to right: Glen King, Elbert Hampton, Gary Slyter and Bill Plumley.
Even with such valiant efforts, the litter remains. Currently, only one-third of our roads are adopted. You can learn more about our Adopt-A-Highway program and sign up to adopt a particular roadway online.
Applications for summer Ecology Youth Corps also are being accepted by our partners, with details available on the Ecology website.
We know our residents take our state’s beauty seriously – as they should. We hope that by working together, we can all make a difference and keep litter off our roads.