Thursday, July 31, 2008

County’s costs for roadside cleanup are highest in state

Litter removal from roads in Prince George’s accounts for a quarter of SHA trash budget

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State Highway Administration costs for picking up roadside trash in Prince George’s County jumped more than 26.7 percent over the past year, according to preliminary figures from the agency.

The agency spent $2.15 million on trash pickup in Prince George’s in the 2007 budget year, and $2.72 million in the 2008 budget year that ended June 30.

And the costs for picking up trash in Prince George’s over the past year were nearly two to three times higher than for other metropolitan counties in the Washington-Baltimore region.

In Baltimore County, where the state agency maintains almost the same number of roadside miles, the costs were approximately half the costs in Prince George’s.

State Highway Administration costs for trash pickup across Maryland jumped from $9.4 million in fiscal 2007 to $11.2 million in fiscal 2008, which ended June 30. That’s a 19 percent increase. At the same time, Prince George’s share of the state agency’s costs grew more than a percentage point to more than 24 percent.

That more ‘‘through” or non-local traffic travels highways in Prince George’s probably contributes to higher trash pickup costs, said Chuck Gischlar, an SHA spokesman.

Other factors in Prince George’s include more trucks traveling with uncovered loads and more convenience stores and fast-food restaurants close to highways than in, say, Montgomery County, Gischlar said, where trash pickup costs are about 35 percent of neighboring Prince George’s per-roadside-mile cost.

Still, it’s hard to interpret the numbers and figure out why there’s such a ‘‘spike” in Prince George’s, said Wesley Mitchell, deputy engineer for SHA’s District 3, which includes Prince George’s and Montgomery.

Contract rates in the metropolitan area are comparable, Gischlar said. The reason for the disparity in costs is ‘‘simply that there’s more to remove” along roadways in Prince George’s, he said.

That the county is on so many commuter routes in the region and that Maryland Routes 4, 5 and 210 are major ‘‘cut-throughs” for traffic that accompanies heavy growth in Southern Maryland are also factors, Gischlar said.

‘‘If you don’t live there, you are less likely to deeply care as much,” he said.

SHA is running radio spots in the Washington and Baltimore markets aimed at educating and warning motorists to ‘‘get people to put [trash] in the right place,” he said.

County police, public works and transportation officials and state highway engineers meet regularly to plan and coordinate extra efforts.

Mitchell said the efforts, which include more trash pickups, are making headway. But he and county officials said still more needs to be done to educate the public, and push them, to stop littering.

Neither local nor state police keeps count of the number of litter citations they issue, police said.

During a special litter enforcement week in March and April, Prince George’s County Police issued 23 citations for uncovered dump truck loads, said Rex Barrett, who as commander of youth and family services, oversees special police efforts to curb environmental crimes.

Too many truckers see the $80 fine as a cost of doing business, said Susan Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the Prince George’s public works and transportation department.

But food wrappers and construction materials aren’t the only problems.

Old tires, hubcaps and used motor oil aren’t just heavy and hard to move, they pose safety and environmental hazards.

Mowing crews and motorists are sometimes injured, and equipment and cars are damaged when they run over such items.

Illegal dumping of large items is also a problem along Prince George’s roadways, Gischlar said.

To help curb the problem, Prince George’s Police has assigned officers to work with the county’s public works department to stake out popular illegal dumping sites.

Although most litter pickups on highways are done by companies that contract with the state to do the job in certain corridors, prison inmates collect roadside garbage occasionally and crews from state maintenance facilities pitch in to help.

Volunteers who pick up trash and sponsors who pick up the costs keep state expenses down on some state maintained roads, but state highway officials said they do not have a count of the number of roadways adopted and sponsored in each county.

SHA-maintained roads carry most of the traffic in the state.

Although the state agency maintains less than 20 percent of all lane miles in Maryland, the roads it maintains — interstates (except toll roads) and numbered state routes — carry 80 percent of the state’s traffic.