- The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) is having a hard time combating a highway litter problem. It is routinely fielding a barrage of related complaints, despite that maintenance crews are out cleaning daily and dealing with broken glass, some hospital waste, and exposure to poison ivy.
- One part of the problem is that KDOT has incurred several budget cuts, creating a loss of $16 million in two years and forcing the agency to significantly reduce its staff. Currently, 90 workers pick up heavy trash volumes along 2,000 lane miles while handling other maintenance functions.
- While Kansas still has the Adopt-A-Highway and Sponsor-A-Highway programs, the programs' sponsor and volunteer numbers are waning.
Kansas' highway lanes scattered with food-stained wrappers, glass chunks, and unsavory materials affect crews, communities, and municipalities' budgets. But the drive-by dumpers don’t seem to care, and the situation is out of control.
"[Workers] can pick it up and the next day it looks like they've never been there," said Kim Qualls, KDOT's NE Kansas Public Affairs Manager.
Highway litter has plagued other states as well. Ohio picked up more than 8,400 bags of trash from interstates in one month earlier this year; still the task force and other service workers they recruited barely put a dent in the garbage. Then the state pulled in Keep Ohio Beautiful, Keep Cleveland Beautiful, the city of Cleveland, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, and Cleveland Neighborhood Progress to facilitate a litter clean-up day.
But one day is not typically going to do a lot, no matter how big the project. What has worked in the past is bringing everyone together in a long-term engaging community cleanup where participants have something visual and lasting to take ownership in. However when the trash is on a highway rather than someone’s backyard, pulling out the "sense of community" card may not be as effective.
Still, KDOT keeps sending out crews, and Northeast Kansas Public Affairs Manager Kim Qualls hopes the public will eventually listen as they are told to stop littering. Of the citizens who do care, she said through KSHB, "Contact your legislators and urge them to increase KDOT's funding."