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Trash litters the median of Alabama 24 near  Decatur's Beltline Road. The Alabama Depart-ment of Transport-ation expects to spend more than $6 million this year removing litter from interstates and state highways.
Daily photo by Gary Lloyd
Trash litters the median of Alabama 24 near Decatur's Beltline Road. The Alabama Depart-ment of Transport-ation expects to spend more than $6 million this year removing litter from interstates and state highways.

Paying for trashy behavior
Litter messy, costly and dangerous along state roadways

By M.J. Ellington · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — One of the first things highway travelers see when they cross the state line is a sign that says, "Welcome to Alabama the Beautiful."

People in charge of combating litter say the sign may need to read, "Alabama the Litter-full."

The Alabama Department of Transportation expects to spend more than $6 million this year removing litter from interstates and state highways. The amount does not count work by county and municipal cleanup crews on city streets and county roads, or people in jail crews, work-release inmates and people doing community service instead of jail time for minor offenses.

The state could hire, train and equip — minus cars -- 100 entry-level state troopers for $5.9 million.

Sometimes a litter detail is just the messy business of cleaning up the trash that people throw out car windows or dump along the roadside to avoid paying a fee at the landfill. Other times, litter may be deadly.

"It is a bad shame," Morgan County deputy Danny Kelso said about the amount of litter on area roads. "People come into the state, and right away they see a sign that says, 'Welcome to Alabama the Beautiful,' and what they see on the roadside is trash. What is disgusting to me is that I can have a crew go out and pick up a section of road and two or three months later it is as bad or worse than it was before."

Kelso is in charge of the Sheriff's Department road crew division that has crews of nonviolent prisoners picking up roadway trash Monday through Saturday.

Crews count on heavy litter on busy commuter roads such as Danville Road in Decatur or U.S. 31 near Hartselle, Kelso said. Other trashy spots include areas near stop signs and stores. People who throw out fast-food wrappers, soft drink cans and beer bottles are the most frequent culprits.

"It is an eyesore and if we don't keep picking it up, it will continue to get worse," Kelso said. "We have routes we follow start to finish, and as soon as we are through, we need to start over again.

Linda Eubanks, who supervises Decatur litter work crews, said the city uses crews of three to five people per day, primarily those doing community service hours instead of jail time for minor offenses and people from the Decatur Work Release Center.

The 90,000 pounds of bagged trash the crews removed from city streets in 11 months of data available for 2006 does not count pieces of cardboard, shingles and other large objects the crews also carted away to landfills, she said.

Eubanks said it is disgusting to think about the litter people toss away for others to clean up.

"Our goal is to get people to stop," Eubanks said. She said maybe with education about the problem at an early age, school-children will grow up to appreciate their environment more than today's adults apparently do.


Eubanks said the city is working to build more involvement in the Adopt-A-Mile program in which volunteer groups commit to keep sections of road clean as a service project. She also encourages people to report littering on the city's litter hotline.

In Athens, where the City Council is discussing the problem, Councilman Jimmy Gill has suggested that Keep Athens-Limestone beautiful look at rewarding civic groups for attacking heavily littered areas.

KALB coordinator Lynn Hart estimated the city would need to appropriate $8,000 to give $300 to groups picking up 16 target areas.

Inmate gangs

Johnnie Harris of the Alabama Department of Transportation Division 1 said his department uses maintenance management teams that work with inmates from the Limestone Correctional Facility and other prisons across the state when possible. DOT crews manage the workers.

$25-$30 an hour

He estimates the state's hourly costs for litter details at about $25 to $30 per hour counting employee salaries, equipment and supplies. Along a day's average section of roadway, Harris said, a crew picks up enough litter to fill one or two flatbed trailers or dump trucks. He did not have figures on the weight of the amount picked up last year.

On busy roads, Harris said, the goal is to remove dangerous material as well as litter.

A young motorist died on busy Interstate 85 in Montgomery three years ago after he lost control of his vehicle trying to avoid a ladder that fell into the roadway from a passing truck. The driver of the truck that lost the ladder did not stop.

On Interstate 59 in North Alabama, a chronic roadway litter problem near Fort Payne resulted in numerous complaints.

Imported litter

"We found out a lot of regional waste haulers from Tennessee and Georgia were coming into Alabama and using a landfill outside Collinsville," Harris said.

"They were supposed to make sure their trucks were cleaned out before they left the landfill and they were not."

The landfill helped DOT make contact with the haulers who then complied with state requirements, but not before the state spent numerous hours cleaning up Tennessee and Georgia trash.

The biggest problem areas for litter in the state include higher volume roadways, Harris said. They include Interstates 65 and 59, and U.S. 431 and U.S. 31.

In a state where city, county and state government all pay to pick up the trash of people who litter without thinking of the consequences, Harris has a goal.

"I wish people had proper respect for the environment around the roads and not just the roadway," Harris said.

State litter statistics

  • 2005-06 cost on interstates and state roads: more than $5.9 million.

  • Employee hours: more than 177,000.

  • 2006-07 estimate: more than $6 million.

  • Spent since Oct. 1: $1.6 million.

    - Alabama Department of Transportation

    Hot line

    Report littering to Decatur Litter Hotline: 341-4778

    - Decatur beautification

    Decatur stats

  • During 11 months of 2006, city crews of three to five people collected more than 90,000 pounds of bagged roadway trash. Crews are three to five people doing community service hours or prison work-release inmates with a supervisor.

  • Figure does not include cardboard, shingles or larger trash, which is not weighed.

  • Crews work Monday through Friday.

    - Decatur Beautification

    Morgan cleanup

  • Morgan Sheriff’s Department crew of six to seven non-violent inmates work six days per week.

  • Daily roadside trash averages 25 bags of trash in 55 gallon bags, filling a 16-foot trailer.

  • Weight totals not tabulated nor is heavier litter included.

    - Morgan County Sheriff’s Department

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