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Picking up litter and picking off litterbugs.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Virginia’s Adopt-A-Highway program is a mess. Records are shoddy. Volunteers aren’t honoring their pledge. Last year, litter was picked up as often as required along fewer than 400 of the state’s nearly 75,000 miles of highway. Even a Virginia Department of Transportation group that included the agency’s commissioner fell short.
Cleaning the shoulders of the road is a public service and one that the public isn’t too enthused about pitching in to accomplish.
Participation has plummeted along with VDOT’s operating budget. As employees and services are sliced and diced, some things fall to the wayside. And the litter piles up.
In Sunday’s story, “Adopt-A-Highway: left on the roadside,” reporter Jeff Sturgeon offers insight into how the program is supposed to work and some of the reasons it doesn’t. Ideas raised in the story — better oversight, reducing from four to two the number of times groups are required to clean their sections — may help to get it back on track.
Basically, though, dealing with litter comes down to reaching for the carrot and the stick.
VDOT has the carrot, if it can remember how to dangle it to fire up enthusiasm among volunteers. VDOT had once mastered this task, marshalling 6,000 volunteers to collect trash along 14,000 miles of highway — their labors rewarded with signs touting their achievement.
Law enforcement has the stick, one rarely used. Sen. Ralph Smith thinks hitting litterbugs with 10 hours of community service — preferably time spent picking up trash — would have a huge impact. His bill passed this year, and Smith thinks it will be effective if the law made examples out of just a few people who toss cigarettes, cans and baby diapers out the window. Ten hours of picking up the nasty stuff surely would deter recidivism, though it might do little more than pick off one litterer at a time.
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