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Cape Jones says “Please, don’t throw it out.”

The district maintenance engineer for the Mississippi Department of Transportation is talking about trash along state highways and interstates — litter the men on his crews have to pick up.

There are boxes, cans, bottles, plastic bags and cups, take-out containers, tires, wood and any other kind of debris imaginable. People throw it out of their cars or it flies off the back of their open pick-up trucks.

“It’s a substantial amount of litter,” said Jace Ponder, MDOT public information officer. “It costs us about $3 million a year to collect litter and debris along the highways in Mississippi.”

There’s a $250 fine for throwing trash on state highways, but that penalty doesn’t seem to deter too many people.

In Fiscal Year 2019, MDOT spent 31,621 man hours picking up 5,051 cubic yards of trash from the medians, shoulders and interchanges of state highways and interstates.

They got help from inmate trustee crews. MDOT used 5,930 man hours overseeing these crews, who picked up an additional 2,851 cubic yards of debris.

In Fiscal Year 2018, MDOT personnel worked 30,467 man hours to pick up 3,400 cubic yards of litter, while 6,396 MDOT man hours were spent supervising the inmate litter program, which collected another 4,079 cubic yards of trash.

In addition, citizens involved with the volunteer Adopt a Highway program, picked up 9,599 bags of debris in Fiscal Year 2018.

That $3 million is taxpayer money that could be spent on more worthwhile pursuits.

“Every hour (our workers) are picking up trash it’s costing the taxpayer in lost man hours,” Ponder said. “I would rather have the maintenance workers patching the road than picking up litter.”

Picking up roadside litter takes MDOT’s approximately 1,500 maintenance workers away from more important jobs like patching potholes, striping lanes and fixing guardrails and shoulders.

But it’s got to be done, especially before the mowers come through and tear up that litter into little, tiny pieces.

“(The litter) is hidden in the grass, so they have to search it out and pick it up,” Ponder said. “We can’t see every piece of trash in the grass so sometimes when we mow — it chops it up.”

MDOT does its best to educate the public about the need to keep the state’s roadways clean. It has seven litter prevention coordinators who travel to schools, libraries and community centers to talk about the impact litter has on the environment.

That impact is severe. Wildlife can eat the litter and get sick and die. The litter can get into the state’s waterways and harm marine life.

“That bottle somebody throws out in Hernando is eventually going to end up in the Yazoo (River), the Mississippi and into the Gulf,” Ponder said.

In Fiscal Year 2018, the litter prevention coordinators reached 35,489 people.

If each of those people passed the message on, perhaps the litter problem on the state’s roads would get better.

That turn of events would be good news for Jones.

“It’s an eyesore,” he said. “We would appreciate it if (people) wouldn’t do that.”

For more on this story, go to ClarionLedger.com.

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