Colt McArthur, a Westwood resident, drives along Interstate 35 every day to get to and from work. And during this commute there’s one thing McArthur says he consistently sees: trash.
“I understand with COVID-19, this is the least of peoples’ worries, but it’s been this way for several years even before COVID,” McArthur said. “I’m like, OK, it’s a lot of trash and we pay pretty high taxes and I would think that someone would be responsible for picking up the trash.”
Hard to ‘put a dent’ in the trash
The Kansas Department of Transportation holds jurisdiction for I-35, which runs through the northeast Johnson County communities of Overland Park, Merriam, Lenexa and Mission. This means Johnson County defers all trash and litter inquiries along this highway to KDOT.
KDOT Communications Director Jeanny Sharp agreed that trash along Interstate 35 is a lingering issue in the Kansas City metro.
“We don’t experience trash problems around the state like are occurring in the Kansas City metro area,” Sharp said. “KDOT offered employees an opportunity to non-emergency overtime pay to help pick up trash in the Kansas City area, however, the trash seems to reappear as quickly as we’ve picked it up so it is hard to put a dent in the problem.”
And COVID-19 has added to the dilemma, Sharp said. Required social distancing has limited the number of people allowed in a truck at one time and therefore, has limited the number of people who can pick-up trash. Deferred maintenance projects are currently KDOT’s priority at this time, as there is limited personnel available to perform all highway maintenance projects, she said.
Sharp said while trash is a frustrating eyesore, it isn’t a top priority. The highway maintenance teams are not only charged with trash pick-up, but a laundry list of duties including snow and ice removal, pothole and sign repair as well as mowing and other responsibilities, she said.
McArthur said he travels quite a bit for work and he’s used to seeing monuments and nice signage in other communities. But in the Kansas City area what he notices most is the trash.
“Once they completed [construction between Shawnee Mission Parkway and 95th Street], I thought they would do some nice landscaping, but they didn’t plant anything and it became a dumping ground for trash and trash and trash,” McArthur said. “I didn’t know if it was the city’s responsibility or the county or the state to pick up trash, but no one was really showing responsibility.”
McArthur said his concern is if the highway isn’t kept clean — aside from the taxes paid to address these issues — it will lead to suburban blight.
Current efforts — and what can be done
KDOT fines related to littering are posted in different locations, but the signs have been up for years, Sharp said. Enforcement and peer pressure are necessary to accomplish two things, she said:
- Get people to stop throwing trash along highways
- Trash haulers to secure their loads so its not contributing to the litter
Additionally, Sharp said the volunteer driven Adopt-A-Highway program is one option for those with a vested interest in keeping highways clean. This program requires groups to agree to remove litter at least three times a year during a two-year period. Additional information and an application can be found here.
Still, Sharp said a concern in the Kansas City area is volunteer safety on some stretches of the highway. KDOT’s partnership with Adopt-A-Highway Litter Removal Service of America Inc., a sponsor-based program, a company paid by an individual or a group will pick up the litter on the sponsor’s behalf.
The sponsor-based program provides a location for the group or individual’s sign, and the company’s certified ‘clean crews’ clean the sponsored segment following KDOT requirements. More information about sponsoring a highway can be found via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at (800) 499-2367.