Friday, April 29, 2022

Seven days on SR 512 in Pierce County yields 24,480 pounds of litter

By Cara Mitchell

If you were caught in the backups on State Route 512 around Puyallup these past two weeks, thanks for your patience. Closing lanes during the day on a state highway that sees average daily traffic volumes well over 100,000 vehicles is never an easy decision for us. We know it creates big challenges for drivers. With that in mind, know the reason why we closed the lane was for safety, and we got some really great work done in the process.

We dislike seeing litter along our highways just as much as you do. Our challenge is we do not have regular, dedicated litter crews, nor the funding to create them.  To help address roadside litter, we maintain the Adopt-a-Highway program and partner with the Department of Ecology, Department of Corrections and local communities. The median of SR 512 is a challenge to keep litter free because its design, size, and the use of cable barrier along much it. The only way to safely allow access to it is by closing the left lanes. Anyone who drives SR 512 knows what happens when a lane is closed for a collision or emergency repairs – huge backups occur.

For two weeks in April, right around Earth Day, we decided the backups were worth enduring while we combined forces with Ecology on SR 512. We closed the left lane during the morning and early afternoon so Ecology crews had a larger work zone to safely pick up as much trash as they could. When you have 100,000 vehicles a day flying past you at 60 mph, it’s really important to create a large work zone for added protection.

Over two weeks on SR 512, our crews and Department of Ecology crews
 teamed up to collect and dispose of 24,480 pounds of litter.

Some of you may wonder why this work wasn’t performed at night. Daylight provides greater visibility for safety and removing larger amounts of litter. With the exception of interchanges, much of SR 512 does not have overhead lighting.

At the end of the first week, we disposed of 10,000 pounds of garbage at the landfill. Another 14,480 pounds were disposed of at the end of week 2 for a total of 24,480 pounds, which is great news for everyone.

During the SR 512 cleanup, our crews provided traffic control to create a safe space while Department of Ecology crews picked up litter in the median.

Safety first, always

We were quickly reminded why we close lanes when anyone is working in the median of SR 512. Two hours after our crews and Ecology had finished for the day, on Wednesday, April 20, a vehicle crashed into the cable barrier – in the same location where crews were working just hours earlier. Our maintenance crews went out that night to make the repairs.

Our nighttime maintenance teams made repairs to cable barrier on SR 512.

Then on Thursday, April 21, our crews were performing a mobile left lane closure to remove larger pieces of debris – such as an old desk – from the center concrete wall on both directions of SR 512. Ecology crews were not scheduled to join us that day. This was work we try to take care of when time allows. Crews had just finished the westbound direction and were starting eastbound near Lakewood when they saw a pickup truck speeding toward them. The pickup struck our truck mounted attenuator (a buffer vehicle to protect crews ahead), spun out and then took off. We were very lucky that no employees were injured, and the TMA barely had a scratch on it. We’ve seen these situations end much, much worse.

On Thursday, April 21, our truck mounted attenuator survived a hit and run collision on eastbound SR 512 while crews were picking up large debris from the center concrete wall of the highway.

Safety is always our top priority, and during the month of April, we push that messaging out using a bull horn. When incidents like these happen, it can be frustrating for all of us. After all, we are out there cleaning up litter that really shouldn’t be there in the first place. That’s why we are asking all of you to help us prevent litter on our state highways and keep our crews safe. We take pride in our state, just like you. All of us need to work together to address this issue.

Our maintenance crews fix safety-related issues, including performing guardrail and cable barrier repairs, that are often damaged from a collision. They are also cutting back brush to improve sight distance, refreshing lane lines on the highways, filling potholes and maintaining drainage systems. We do the best we can to get to as many of those safety related needs as possible. On Wednesday, April 27, in additional to collecting 480 bags of litter, we took advantage of the left lane closure to repair guard rail and removed some vegetation in the median to improve sight distance.

As part of the work on SR 512 our crews also repaired guardrail.

How can you help?

  • Properly cover and tie down all loads, trash and debris on all trips so it doesn’t fall or fly out of vehicles
  • Dispose of all trash in a vehicle litter bag or in a bin at a destination
  • Share litter prevention messages with family and friends. Visit and for litter prevention tips
  • If able, consider creating an Adopt-a-Highway group to join the valuable volunteers who help clear roadsides and other rights of way
  • Stay alert for road crews, move over when you can and always slow down. They’re counting on you

We are working on plans to remove litter from the median on SR 410 in Sumner this spring. Drivers will see similar left lane closures that will be scheduled around commute hours. We will share that information on our statewide travel map and app once the dates are finalized.