Where did these freeway adoption signs start?
It all started with an East Texas highway manager who took the trash very personally.
Editor’s Note: In a healthy society with free speech, free enterprise, and democratic institutions, a person with a great idea can make a difference. Reader’s Digest partners with WeThePurple.org to republish articles from our archives that dramatize and rekindle patriotic enthusiasm for democracy and its fundamental values. This April 1992 article describes the humble origins of the Highway Adoption Program, a local effort to keep roads clean. Today, similar programs operate in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. In New York State alone, some 5,000 miles of roads are garbage-free as a result of the program.
Driving north towards Tyler, Texas, James R. “Bobby” Evans couldn’t miss the fast moving red van stuffed with trash. From its open tailgate, empty cement bags, plastic wallboard wrappers and nail cartons spat all over the freeway.
Evans is a tall, thoughtful man with almost professorial manners. Confrontation is not his style. But now he was gripping the steering wheel of his car in frustration. Before he could catch the truck, he sped off.
Evans takes the waste very personally. He is the highest-ranking highway official in an eight-county area of eastern Texas roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. As a District Engineer, he is responsible for maintaining 3,600 miles of road in good condition. In three decades, he had given hundreds of lectures and film presentations to fight waste. But nothing seemed to have much of an impact.
While driving, Evans saw a roadside where motorists had thrown beer cans, cartons of fast food, soda bottles and even disposable diapers. Texas Spends Almost $ 25 Million Per Year [roughly $46 million today] collection of this waste, and the costs were increasing by 17 percent per year. Still furious about this van, Evans resolved to renew his efforts.
In a speech a few weeks later, Evans challenged a civic club to “adopt” one of the highways leading to Tyler, to clean it regularly. His appeal had little reaction. Something was missing, Evans thought. Back at his office, he called Public Affairs Officer Billy Black. As they talked about the idea of adopting a freeway, that missing piece suddenly fell into place. Why not credit a cooperating organization by name? Soon a plan emerged:
- Each group would be recognized by a bold sign, marking the start and end of the route segment adopted.
- Volunteers would agree to clean their stretch four times a year.
- The roads department would provide safety training, reflective vests and plastic bags, and pick up the garbage bags afterward.
One obstacle remained: Evans had no authority to erect the signs.
So he called Deputy Warden Henry Thomason and described the plan to him.
There was a long pause. “Bobby,” said Thomason, “sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. That was all Evans had to hear. Billy Black started talking about the idea in public.
The Tyler Civitan Club was the first to call. Its members wanted to adopt a two-mile stretch of Highway 69 just north of the city. On March 9, 1985, motorists noticed a bold blue and white four-by-eight foot sign on the side of the road.
ADOPT A HIGHWAY PROGRAM
THE NEXT 2 MILES ADOPTED BY
CIVITAN TYLER CLUB
FOR WASTE CONTROL
About twenty members of the Civitan Club gathered for their first clean-up. They put on orange vests, put on gloves, took spiked sticks and began to collect.
Shortly after, the Smith County Adult Probation Service had registered on Highway 31 west of the city, offering community service convicts an important new way to redeem themselves. Within months, more than 50 groups had signed up, including the Boy Scouts, two garden clubs, Future Farmers of America, and a Tyler Junior College fraternity group, all drawn in large measure to the public recognition of these daring. blue-and-white signs conferred.
When Doris Ward, senior vice president of NBC Bank in Mission, Texas, learned about the program, she persuaded a dozen of her colleagues to join us. On the morning of their first clean-up, the group, including the bank chairman, rolled out three miles down Hwy 495. As Ward later said, “When it was over we were hot and dirty. , but we knew we had done something worthwhile. “
The program quickly spread to citizens’ groups in 254 Texas counties, involving 700 groups and over 1,000 miles of freeway. In its first year, the Adopt-a-Highway program, combined with a statewide media campaign, reduced waste cleanup costs by 29%. Today, 3,973 groups have passed nearly 8,000 miles of highway in the state.
A member of the Kiwanis Club discovered a $ 1,000 war bond that someone had inadvertently thrown away. It has been returned to its rightful owner.
In previous cleanings, said volunteer Woody Eastman of the Keep Brazoria County Beautiful Association in Lake Jackson, “we found everything except the kitchen sink.” Next, during our Spring Clean Adopt a Freeway, we found a kitchen sink. We also found glasses, pants, a shirt, a hat and a boot. There should be a naked man with a boot running somewhere.
Louisiana State Senator Richard Neeson was driving through East Texas one day in the summer of 1985 when he saw an Adopt a Freeway sign. He stopped and asked his wife to take her photo next door. When the Neesons returned to Louisiana, he brought a magnified two-square-foot photo to the capital, showing it to anyone who would like to view it.
As deputy chairman of the State Legislature’s Highways and Transportation Commission, Neeson passed a bill to encourage citizen groups to adopt highways while protecting the state from liability lawsuits. .
The first to sign up were the Lakeland Ladies, a housewives club based in New Roads, Louisiana. “While we were cleaning up,” says former president Ruby Harriman, “people slowed down, honked their horns and waved their hands. Our group was made up mainly of women between 40 and 60 years old. We hadn’t been honked for years!
In one year, 300 other groups had adopted more than 600 miles of highway. Today, 1,200 organizations take care of more than 12 percent of the state’s roads. “Of all the bills I’ve passed,” says Neeson, “this one meant the most to me. “
At the Cutter Biological division of Miles, Inc. in Clayton, North Carolina, project engineer Fred Wall belongs to a team of executives and factory workers who work side-by-side four times a year to clean local agricultural roads. “The first time we did it,” Wall says, “we collected 67 bags of garbage, 12 tires and seven bags of aluminum cans. Last July we only had 32 bags, no tires. Things are improving!
Wall thinks the public is becoming aware. “They see our elbows and buttocks in the ditches, picking up their trash, and say, ‘What a dirty dog I am!
Ira Mueller of Durham, a young mother who runs the Durham Ritz Touchless Carwash, asks her student employees to clean up parts of Routes 15 and 501. “I’m hiding green tennis balls in the weeds,” Mueller says, “and anyone who finds that one gets a $ 10 reward. It’s a little motivation, but it works.
Oklahoma State Beautification Coordinator Joanne Orr tells the story of her boss, who was driving along Interstate 35 northeast of Oklahoma City on a Saturday morning and saw young men in tuxedo picking up trash. They were members of the Delta Gamma Sigma fraternity of Oklahoma Christian College, who had attended a banquet on Friday night.
Orr collects favorite Adopt-a-Highway signs, but says it’ll be hard to beat the one she saw on a two-mile stretch near Austin, TX. The fan club sign proclaims: “ELVIS, IT’S FOR YOU!
Meanwhile, along Bussard Ridge, near Bonners Ferry, Idaho, Virginia, Prieber patrols 16 miles off Hwy 95. Wearing a flowery floppy hat, lumberjack gloves and boots, Prieber, 55, a retired medical technician, collected five trucks of bottles and cans in 1991 – 2,300 pounds in all. This is in addition to the usual garbage she would pick up and haul in a dumpster in Good Grief Settlement, Idaho. On one memorable occasion, she found a garbage bag with its owner’s name on the receipts inside. She packed up the trash and mailed it back to him, first class.
Hardly a day goes by without a phone call or letter telling Bobby Evans what extraordinary success he brainstormed. “Billy Black and I keep hearing that attitudes have changed,” he says. “Once you’ve collected the rubbish from the side of the road, you’re unlikely to throw it away yourself. I think even the guy in that red van is coming towards us.