Kansas highways have a major trash problem, which is not hard not to notice.
It's not only an eyesore for drivers, but an ongoing problem for the Kansas Department of Transportation. It's getting too big to handle. Complaints flood the KDOT office daily.
— Sarah Plake (@SarahPlakeTV) May 2, 2016
"You can't help but notice the trash," KCK resident Ottawa Williams said.
Mable Cubbage, who's lived in Kansas her whole life, said, "The metropolitan area in Kansas and Missouri, I think, are some of the trashiest areas."
KDOT's NE Kansas Public Affairs Manager Kim Qualls is well-aware of the complaints.
"The highways look trashy and what are we going to do about it? Well, that's when we explain to them what we actually do," Qualls said.
KDOT maintenance crews are out every day picking up the endless miles of trash that litter metro highways.
They find plastic, glass, debris from trucks, sanitation debris, lots of cigarette butts and much, much more. Crews have to look out for broken glass, poison ivy, and even sometimes hospital waste when they're out.
"They can pick it up and the next day it looks like they've never been there," Qualls said. "It's extremely frustrating for the crews, too."
"I don't know if we don't have the personnel to do it, or the budget, but it's really kind of embarrassing," Cubbage said.
That's exactly it. Qualls said the problem is bigger than KDOT at this point.
KDOT loses funding every year and has drastically cut staff over the past several years. They lost $16 million in two years. That's about 90 people tacking nearly 2,000 lane miles, in addition to the long list of other tasks KDOT maintenance is responsible for, and the ever-expanding highway system.
They just can't keep up.
"This is just a nightmare, a living nightmare," Qualls told 41 Action News.
The funding they do have goes to safety measures first, like fixing potholes, guardrails, and signs that cars have hit.
"You have to balance all of that out," Qualls said. "Do you pick up the trash or do we keep roads safe?"
The trash has to come from somewhere.
"Everybody is less mindful of what they're doing in regards to throwing trash out," Williams said. "They don't think it makes a difference when, in essence, it does."
"Trash is one of those things that people often think is somebody else's problem and it really isn't. It's all of our problems," Qualls said.
The Adopt-A-Highway and Sponsor-A-Highway programs are still in place, but even those are dwindling. Qualls says not as many people are sponsoring and volunteering their time anymore.
To put the trash problem in perspective, she says to imagine the 100,000-plus cars that travel on just I-35 daily and if 50 percent of those littered once a week.
What can we do? Qualls says:
- Stop littering.
- Contact your legislators and urge them to increase KDOT's funding.
The operation budget has been reduced by a total of nearly $16 million due to a transfer to the state general fund and a three percent reduction in 2015 and 2014.
Sarah Plake can be reached at Sarah.Plake@KSHB.com