Adopt-A-Highway’s popularity begins in Texas.
In 1985, in an attempt to reduce roadside litter and the cost of maintaining its highways, the Texas Department of Transportation offered private citizens the opportunity to periodically pick up garbage in exchange for public acknowledgment of their work. For some citizens — say, 16-year-olds and people who eat brie — participating in such a program could hardly be anything other than embarrassing. In spite of that — or perhaps because of it — Adopt-a-Highway enjoyed widespread appeal in Texas and soon began to cross state lines.
Legend has it that the Texas DOT’S Tyler District introduced the highway adoption concept, basing it on similar “spot” campaigns popularized by Keep America Beautiful, Stamford, Conn. Frank Conklin, public information officer for Tyler District, says that, since its inception, Adopt-a,Highway has spread to 48 states, encompassing 8,900 highway miles.
Adopt-a-Highway is not formalized, meaning that individual transportation departments determine the nature of each program and decide whether to sponsor it. Nevertheless, the Adopt-a-Highway program has remained generally the same from state to state.
For example, participating groups typically include businesses, churches, civic and youth groups and clubs, says Conklin. They adopt a small section of highway and agree to clean the roadsides and medians of that section a specific number of times over a specific period. In Texas, he explains, groups or individuals may adopt a two-mile stretch of highway to be cleaned at least four times per year for two years.
Conklin says the Texas DOT provides trash bags and reflective vests for each participating group, and the department is responsible for hauling away trash after a cleanup. There is no cost for adoption, and, on each end of a section, the DOT installs a sign identifying the adopting party.
For participants, good public relations and a sense of pride in a clean state are among Adopt-a-Highway’s benefits, says Conklin. For transportation departments that offer the program, it has produced clean roadsides, reduced maintenance costs and boosted awareness of litter problems.