Politics & Government

St. Clair County program that let volunteers ‘adopt a highway’ to end soon. Here’s why.

A once-popular program that fostered community involvement and let volunteers help the environment and feel good in the process will soon end in St. Clair County due to lack of participation.

The “Adopt-A-Highway” program, which has been in existence more than 20 years, will cease operations next year.

Under the program, groups ‘adopt’ stretches of highway in St. Clair County and agree to regularly go out and pick up trash along those stretches of roadway. But the program has dwindled to the point to where only one group is still active on a regular basis, County Engineer Norman Etling said.

“They pick up the trash, we put up the signs. We give them the bags, the gloves and the safety signs and then we pick the bags back up.,” “But (some) people never picked up the trash,” he said.

Members of St. Clair County Transportation Committee voted Monday to end the program with only one member voting against the action.

The program allowed organizations or groups of people to adopt areas of county highways. Those groups are expected to regularly clean litter from the side of county highways with materials provided by the county.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

Here's why we did this story

The BND is reporting on this development to let people know what is happening in their county government. For more information on the state’s Adopt-A-Highway program, email DOT.AAH@Illinois.gov or call (217) 557-3224.

In St. Clair County there are 22 sections, roughly 28.5 miles, of adopted highway. Etling said, however, those sections often don’t get cleaned at all by the organizations that adopted them.

He added that aside from lack of participation, the program has also been marred by logistical problems. He said his department can only lend one person to organizing the distribution of the items needed for groups to clean up the highways due to an ongoing shortage of workers.

“We have one person that tries to keep it going,” he said. “It just has become more about logistics than trash.”

Any group or individual who joins the adopt a highway program signs a yearlong contract, which frees the county of possible liabilities, Etling said.

Due to those yearlong contracts, the program cannot simply end. Etling said the best way to cease the program would be by letting those contracts expire, which the board voted in favor of doing.

091719DH Illinois adopt.jpg
The Illinois Department of Transportation offers a similar program to St. Clair’s soon-to-be-defunct Adopt a Highway program. That program has been active since 1996 and according to IDoT is aided by roughly 1,100 volunteer groups covering hundreds of miles of highway in Illinois. Derik Holtmann dholtmann@bnd.com

County Board member Bob Trentman, who lives in St. Clair Township, was the only committee member who voted against ending the program. He could not be reached later for comment.

The program, which began in the 1990s, will end sometime next year. Madison County does not have a similar program.

The Illinois Department of Transportation offers an Adopt-A-Highway program. Active since 1996, IDOT is aided by roughly 1,100 volunteer groups that clean up hundreds of miles of highway in Illinois. Each group agrees to adopt a two-mile stretch of highway, in exchange for a sign and supplies.

However, the agency reports that only about 10 percent of the groups are active on a regular basis.

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Kavahn Mansouri covers government accountability for the Belleville News-Democrat, holding officials and institutions accountable and tracking how taxpayer money is spent.
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