Marking Earth Day, New York State Department of Transportation employees participated in a statewide “Trash Blitz” Monday to collect and dispose of litter along roads and highways.
DOT office employees in the Capital Region took to Albany County’s Delmar Bypass with road work signs, gloves, grabbers, and plenty of bug spray. DOT Executive Deputy Commissioner Ron Epstein says the blitz is meant to show that litter not only hurts the environment, but threatens the safety of New York’s roads.
“We ask them not to throw it out [of] their car. Wait ‘til you get home, throw it in a repository, wait ‘til you get where you’re going, there’s usually garbage cans — put it in the right place," Epstein directs. "And there are drainage basins all around here – they clog with litter, it rains, we get extreme weather events, and the water has nowhere to go because it’s clogged. It could get as bad as where the water undermines the roadway, and you have a washout. So it could get really severe.”
So what exactly are people throwing out of their cars on the bypass? Volunteer Diane Kenneally says it’s quite a range.
“Bottles, plastic bags, paper, car parts –probably somebody must have had a vehicle incident, so we’re finding the broken glass from taillights and things like that," she says.
For last year’s blitz, more than 2,000 volunteers collected over 9,000 bags of garbage statewide. This was Kenneally’s first time participating. She sees it as a chance to give back to DOT field workers who maintain the roads year-round.
“The majority of the people that work at DOT are out in the field. This is our opportunity to support them and let them know that what they do is important to us," says Kenneally. "And also I live in this community, so I also wanna take my part and contribute and work on cleaning up the area as well.”
Kenneally adds the event is also about promoting road safety. Like all field workers, Monday’s volunteers were decked out in yellow vests and bright hard hats. DOT spokesperson Bryan Viggiani says the hats are mainly worn for their color, rather than for protection.
“It helps with the visibility. But of course, we want the public’s cooperation — not just, obviously, to not litter, but also to move over where it’s appropriate, to slow down when you see our workers," Viggiani says. "Whether it’s a day like today on Earth Day, where it’s our office folks, if you will, but also every other day of the year, where our highway maintenance personnel are out there doing their jobs. Slow down, move over, stay off the phones.”
Just in the Capital Region, Viggiani estimates volunteers filled some 1,100 garbage bags last year. And if drivers don’t change their habits, the litter will build back up in no time. Executive Deputy Commissioner Epstein emphasizes that litter is a preventable problem for the DOT – the everyday labor spent picking up trash is a resource that could be used to repair roadways.
“And we’d rather deal with things that we really have no control over, like what the weather does to our roadways," Epstein explains. "And we’d like to repair the roadways and bridges, as opposed to picking up trash. So people have a choice.”
The trash blitz was continuing in the Mohawk Valley Tuesday along Interstate 790.