The Watchdog

Litter on KC roads makes ride messy

Updated: 2013-12-21T04:33:48Z

The problem

Sallye Sickman teaches school in the Northland, so her daily commute takes her from Waldo to Bruce Watkins Drive and then Interstate 35.

“I am appalled, embarrassed and ashamed of our fair city, as I have to view debris of all sorts and dead animals through my windshield,” she complained. “Paper, furniture, tires, boxes, clothing, debris from trucks and accidents, and dead animals abound.”

She says it’s worst on U.S. 71/Bruce Watkins Drive, where she sees the same identifiable trash day after day. One pink box remained for weeks on an interchange near downtown, she said, and a dead deer was left for three days along I-35.

“What governmental entity is responsible for cleaning up this mess? This has gotten totally out of control and is disgusting,” Sickman said.

The answer

The Missouri Department of Transportation maintains the state and federal highways, but not city streets. In some areas, Adopt-A-Highway volunteers pick up litter four times a year.

“MoDOT spends millions of dollars statewide each year in litter pickup, money that could be better spent on maintaining and improving roads and bridges if citizens would stop littering,” said department spokesman Steve Porter. “The rate of littering on some highways exceeds our ability to keep up with it and still continue our other maintenance responsibilities, which are highly focused on keeping highways safe and drivable.”

Porter said MoDOT tries to respond within a day or two to remove a dead animal, but sooner if it poses a safety hazard on the driving surface. And it drops Adopt-A-Highway groups from the program “rather quickly” if they don’t perform their duties, he said.

On Watkins Drive, a contractor is paid to clean up litter twice a month, except in the worst wintry weather. The Kansas City parks department reimburses MoDOT for half of the yearly cost of roughly $44,000.

City and state officials say they’re satisfied with the work the contractor is doing, but the litter problem on that highway is particularly vexing because of the terrain and the volume of discarded debris.

“Trash blows in there like crazy,” said Forest Decker, superintendent of parks for Kansas City.

He said the city has worked with MoDOT to make sure the highway is spruced up through the winter and before holiday weekends.

Watkins Drive gets more frequent attention than many other places, said Danny Woods, roadside manager for MoDOT’s Kansas City district. And debris missed on one round is likely to be retrieved the next time.

“For the most part ... it doesn’t sit there long,” he said.

The Watchdog says this discussion gives the term “pick of the litter” a whole new meaning.

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