Anaheim puts its trash talk to work

Times Staff Writer

Frustrated that the state won’t clean up its act, Anaheim will launch an effort to pick up the tons of trash littering the freeways and offramps that greet tourists headed to Disneyland and other city hot spots.

City officials told the California Department of Transportation that the city would pitch in and also encourage local businesses and organizations to sign up for the Adopt-a-Highway program to keep the freeways clean.

“Our freeways are entry points to our cities, and we should have a priority to the freeways that they remain clean and well maintained,” said Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle. “Right now in many places, the freeways are an eyesore.”


Pringle is confident that companies and organizations, if asked, would adopt a stretch of highway. If not, he is willing to have the city assume responsibility for the freeway sections that aren’t claimed.

“In my opinion, there’s so much added value to cleaning up the roadways and access points to our city ... that I don’t believe we will be out much money,” he said. “Businesses and groups will come forward.”

Over the last several years, the Caltrans’ outlay for highway maintenance has been meager, the victim of tightening budgets. Levels of service statewide for landscaping and trash pickup have been very low, Caltrans officials said.

The recent spurt of freeway renovations and construction in Orange County and across Southern California has exacerbated the problem, said James Pinheiro, Caltrans deputy director of traffic operations and maintenance.

“We do not have enough people to take care of the landscaping to meet the public’s expectations in Orange County,” he said. “We’re trying to add to that workforce and to increase the work that can get done by expanding the Adopt-a-Highway program.”

Caltrans’ Orange County district office hopes to double the size of the program, but finding groups to volunteer may be more difficult. Caltrans wants to charge sponsors at least $7,200 a year for the honor, twice what groups currently pay. In return, those groups get a prominent highway sign acknowledging their good deeds -- and the public’s admiration.

In addition, sponsors would sign up for five years instead of two.

Anaheim’s initiative comes during one of the largest development surges in the city’s history. Not only has the city made plans for thousands of new commercial and residential units, but recent freeway renovations to Interstate 5 in Anaheim have included artistic design touches to bridgework and sound walls.

“I think Anaheim is setting a real high standard for Orange County and the rest of the Southland,” said Stan Oftelie, former director of the Orange County Transportation Authority. “This whole idea of putting city logos and artwork up on sound walls is a good idea, but why try that when there’s so much trash? It gives the wrong image.”

The freeway “adoption” program, in which individuals, businesses and service organizations clean up 2-mile segments of freeway, has been popular since it began in 1989.

Under the program, sponsors adopt a 2-mile stretch of freeway or state highway and may perform the work themselves or hire a contractor. The California Department of Transportation supplies the equipment for the cleanup, as well as gloves and neon orange vests to alert motorists to workers’ presence.

Last fiscal year, Caltrans’ Orange County district, which monitors 300 miles of freeways and highways, spent $6.6 million to remove litter and debris and an additional $2.4 million on graffiti abatement. Of that, $300,000 went to freeway trash pickup, which was increased this year by $200,000. The rest of the money is spent on salaries, sweepers, equipment, trucks, hauling fees and dump fees.

By comparison, the Los Angeles district has roughly four times the freeway miles. Last year, the district collected 50,000 cubic yards of litter and debris, enough to fill a football field 28 feet high at a cost of more than $12 million.

Pinheiro recently sent letters to city managers and public works directors in Orange County advising them that ramps and stretches of freeways are still available for adoption.

Of Orange County’s 190 adoptable freeway sites, 167 are taken, a Caltrans spokeswoman said. Meanwhile, hundreds of ramps are available, Pinheiro said.

Anaheim’s relationship with Caltrans has been difficult.

Last fall, Pringle rapped the agency for poor maintenance at three offramps on the 91 and 57 freeways, which were spruced up and planted with vegetation at city expense -- only to have the area become blighted when plants withered and died because Caltrans didn’t irrigate. The city’s tab: $1.6 million.

Pinheiro explained that the sprinkler system broke, and rain damage occurred during landscape construction. Bottom line, he said, is that the agency could “use more people” to help take care of freeway landscaping.

Keeping freeways clean should be a higher priority not just for aesthetic reasons, said Hamid Bahadori, Automobile Club of Southern California Public Policy and Programs director.

“Uncollected debris and trash on freeways are not only eyesores, but they can cause serious traffic accidents as well,” Bahadori said.