Concrete, sheet metal, yards of plastic wrapping. It sounds like the makings of a construction site, but it’s actually what’s piling up on the side of local highways.
Caltrans supervisor Glenda Potvin-Chappell has been working for the agency in Truckee for nearly 20 years and has seen a lot change, but what has surprised her most is the increase in the amount of big garbage she has found on the sides of Highways 89 and 267 in the past year or so.
“I personally have better things to do than pick up other people’s garbage,” she said, stepping out of her vehicle on the shoulder of Highway 89 south to collect the debris. “[This] is the worst road. You get things like plywood, sheet rock, two-by-fours, 5-gallon drums of whatever.”
The majority of litter, she said, isn’t caused by drivers tossing Big Gulps from their windows; it’s construction vehicles, garbage trucks, and private citizens who fail to properly secure their loads before hauling it to the disposal site on Cabin Creek Road off Highway 89 south.
There are posted highway signs warning drivers of the $1,000 maximum fine for littering, but Potvin-Chappell said she thinks the California Highway Patrol has been lax in enforcing the law. Patrollers, however, disagree, noting that the CHP cannot be everywhere at once and that it only takes one careless vehicle to dump a large amount of garbage.
“We would love to catch them. But I only see one or two a month,” said CHP Officer Joe Edwards.
“The most helpful thing to us would be if a private citizen sees something to call us so that we can send an officer right over. They can use their eyes, and we can use our tickets to resolve the problem.”
Since the CHP and Caltrans don’t have the time or the resources to go after every littering driver, the Adopt-A-Highway program was implemented on local roads.
Through the program, businesses and private citizens agree to clean up a two-mile stretch of roadway at least six times a year in exchange for recognition on a road-side sign.
The program, Potvin-Chappell said, is vital for keeping local roads clean because the local Caltrans employees simply don’t have enough time.
In the past three months alone, the nine local adoption teams have picked up 390 55-gallon bags of trash off the side of the highways, said Potvin-Chappell.
“One of the biggest complaints is the amount (of garbage) that has gone over the side of the road and into the river,” said Adopt-A-Highway volunteer Patty Heck of the Squaw Valley Homeowners Association. “And I can certainly see that debris in a (bike) lane could interfere with tiny tires, and that is certainly not a place where you want to do any swerving.”
While preserving the environment is a concern, Potvin-Chappell said safety is Caltrans’ largest priority and that cleaning up the highways is largely a safety issue.
“We have to provide safety to the public, but then we’re putting ourselves in danger.” Potvin-Chappell said. “People do not slow down for Caltrans, and I want to go home at the end of the day too. I’m just hoping that people will be more responsible.”
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