Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
Dan Freeman, Deputy District Director of Maintenance (L) and Frank Quon, Deputy District Director of Traffic Operations team up to fight litter.

by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 06/2007

District 7 Executive Staff roll up their sleeves and get to work spreading the anti-litter message to the media and the public.

As the temperature soared into the 90s, District 7 Executive Staff donned hard hats and work gloves to take a hands-on approach to freeway litter and debris.

Their efforts were part of statewide campaign, on May 8, to call attention to the problem, and each Caltrans district was tasked with creating its own litter and trash awareness event, including an intensive clean-up effort by Maintenance crews and outreach to the media. District 7’s media event was named Spring Clean and was held at the maintenance yard on Heliotrope Avenue, adjacent to the Hollywood Freeway (U.S. 101).

Featured speakers were District Director Doug Failing and Maintenance Deputy Dan Freeman from Caltrans, California Highway Patrol Southern Division Chief Gary Dominguez, and two representatives from Adopt-a-Highway groups. In the audience were several members of print and broadcast media.

Following the speeches, Executive Staff and other Caltrans volunteers hiked a short distance from the yard to a site between northbound and southbound U.S. 101 and picked up litter until that afternoon.

Failing told the group that, while he was more than happy to pitch in and clean, he wished it wasn’t necessary. “I’d rather be using the time and talents of my staff on work that will improve mobility and ease congestion for California motorists,” he said. “But we are here today to show how seriously Caltrans takes the problem of litter and debris on our freeways.”

How serious is the problem? Last year, the Department spent more than $55 million statewide picking up and disposing of 140,000 cubic yards of litter and debris along California highways and freeways, enough to fill almost 9,000 garbage trucks. Lined up bumper to bumper, these trucks would extend nearly 45 miles!

Objects found on freeways include: old appliances, “all the baby equipment needed to feed, change, stroll, bounce and entertain a child until kindergarten, enough furniture to fill entire houses—you name it,” Failing said. “If it exists, it probably will end up in a Caltrans disposal bin.”

 Large debris is a road hazard, but small trash, especially cigarette butts, is equally as dangerous because it ends up in storm drains and poisons the environment, he added.

Deputy Director Freeman discussed the local impacts. “District 7 spent $12 million last year picking up 50,000 cubic yards of litter—enough to fill the Coliseum,” he said, inviting the public to become involved in the fight. One way to do this is through the Caltrans Adopt-a-Highway program. Around 400 groups in the District participate and more than 4,000 statewide. Each one is responsible for keeping a two-mile stretch of road free from litter. “Their efforts save California taxpayers almost $15 million a year,” Freeman said.

The event was successful not only in raising public awareness but in the amount of trash that was picked up. Statewide, 225 tons (5,600 cubic yards) were collected. District 7 led the effort, picking up 1,227 cubic yards from 512 shoulder miles of freeway.

But all this cleanliness comes at a price—nearly $850,000 statewide with a whopping $135,191 spent in the District. That’s for one day! Imagine the freeway improvements that could be funded with the same money if motorists could only refrain from dropping and dumping trash and debris.

It could happen.  “This could be the year that people begin to change their habits,” Failing said. “The good news is that litter is a problem with an easy solution: DON’T TRASH CALIFORNIA!”


Fox News reporter Phil Shuman (L) interviews District 7 Director Doug Failing at the Spring Clean media event. CHP Southern Division Chief Gary Dominguez stands behind some objects found on the freeway and speaks about the enforcement of anti-litter laws and the partnership between that agency and Caltrans. Trash bags are displayed as a small mountain at the clean-up site. Members of the media crowd under a canopy to escape the searing heat as they cover the event.