If you’re like me (and it’s probably best for humankind if you’re not), when you drive by one of those adopt-a-highway signs, your mind conjures up positive images of civic-minded volunteers picking up roadside trash and not doing so as court-ordered community service.
So I was crestfallen (which does not mean I dropped my toothpaste) to learn this harsh reality of capitalism: There are companies that highway adopters/sponsors can hire to do the picking up for them.
“The best part,” California-based Adopt A Highway Maintenance Corporation says on its website, “… is AHMC does all the work while your company gets all the positive recognition. It has never been so easy for your business to sponsor a highway!”
Ugh. But stay tuned for some good Texas-related news about this. First, some background.
Texas invented adopt-a-highway (in addition to football and chicken-fried stuff) and the concept has spread around the globe. It’s nice to know other nations also have feckless litterers. The program began in 1985 when the Tyler Civitan Club adopted two miles of U.S. 69. Now, there are more than 4,000 participating groups. Impressive. There are youth groups, religious groups, private companies, etc.
Not everybody who applies is approved. The Texas Department of Transportation says rejected applicants in the past few years have included something called “Aryan Circle” in Waco. The circle was nixed as not being a “civic or nonprofit organization,” as required by the rules.
Back in the 1990s, it became a federal case — with the state winning — when Texas rejected the KKK’s bid to adopt near a Vidor public housing project under a federal desegregation order.
“The presence of Klan members on the highway in Klan attire picking up trash at the entrance to the project would invite strife and interfere with compliance with court orders,” an appeals court said in ruling for the state.
Some years later, another KKK group tried to adopt a Tarrant County road. Nope, said the state. Ron Dusek, then the spokesman for then-Attorney General Dan Morales, said it was just a bad idea.
“Any traveler would be afraid of having their vehicle break down or getting a flat tire on that stretch of the highway,” Dusek said. We need more state agency spokesfolks like Dusek, though we probably don’t need more state agency heads like the later-convicted Morales.
Now, back to where this all started: the disheartening notion that some nonprofit groups might pay some for-profit company to pick up the trash. It indeed looks like in as many as 23 states, a roadside sign with a company or group’s name does not necessarily mean those folks are out there picking up trash.
The aforementioned Adopt A Highway Maintenance Corporation sells its services in 19 states and has clients including The Walt Disney Company, Hilton Hotels and McDonald’s. Interestingly, the corporation’s website notes that at 33 percent, “fast food waste” is the single largest source of roadside trash.
“To put it simply, we do all the work while your company gets all the recognition at a fair price,” the company says.
More than one company is in this business. Adopt-A-Highway Litter Removal Service of America has been at it since 1989.
“We do all the work, YOU get all the recognition!” says the company, whose clients include Anheuser-Busch, Marriott and Subway.
This, of course, is not evil. Profit is good. Highway cleaning is good. And the combination of the two can save tax dollars. It’s just that when I see adopt-a-highway signs, I like to picture volunteers at work.
Here’s the good news about all this: If you see a sign on a Texas road saying the Our Lady of Perpetual Donations Shuffleboard Club has adopted the road you can be sure the shufflers are keeping the roadside clean. Texas state law bars contracting out adopt-a-highway work.
Why am I telling you this today? Because many of you become de facto highway adopters when you decorate roadside trees for the holiday season.
After the holidays, please return to fetch your roadside decorations before they become roadside trash. Thanks.