Local News

Wednesday, Apr 23 2014 02:50 PM

Highway litter a $55 million problem for Caltrans

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Crews pick up trash at the eastbound Highway 58 exit at Fairfax Road.

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  2. 2 of 3

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Men pick up trash at the Fairfax Road exit at eastbound Highway 58.

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  3. 3 of 3

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Workers pick up trash at the Fairfax Road exit at eastbound Highway 58.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Collecting highway trash cost Caltrans more than $55 million during the last fiscal year, an agency official said at a press conference Wednesday.

Caltrans spokeswoman Tami Conrado said maintenance workers would spend the day picking up litter to highlight the problem. She also discussed the danger trash poses to drivers and the ecosystem.

"Motorists face injury, even death, as a result of debris such as ladders, sofas and tires that fall from vehicles hauling unsecured loads," Conrado said at the press conference, part of Caltrans' Annual Statewide Litter Clean-up.

The event also highlighted a more positive development in Bakersfield -- a year of collaboration between the city, Bakersfield Homeless Center, Kern Council of Governments, Keep Bakersfield Beautiful, the Kern County Sheriff's Office and Caltrans that has culled thousands of tons of trash from county highways.

Beginning last May, the Bakersfield City Council approved hiring Bakersfield Homeless Center clients to pick up trash on highway shoulders and ramps.

To date, BHC residents earning minimum wage have collected more than 200 tons of trash, and last week the council approved spending $385,640 to hire BHC crew members for 14 more months.

Kern COG got in the act Aug. 1, a KCSO official said, spending $100,000 to have about seven minimum-security county inmates collect trash on freeway medians and shoulders through June 30.

In September, KCSO announced it would use sheriff's deputies at a cost of $100,000 to Kern County, to ticket drivers hauling uncovered loads of trash.

The program has generated 58 citations, 50 warnings and $14,000 from fines paid.

On April 1, Caltrans announced it would spend $300,000 over two years to hire a second inmate crew.

"You're giving them the encouragement that what they're doing is a good thing," said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, referring to motorists who honk their support to inmates at work. "I've talked to the inmates that pick up the trash, they're very appreciative of that and they're really into what they're doing."

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