Each year, the agency teams up with Keep California Beautiful and the California Highway Patrol to remove litter from along the state’s highway.
Cleanup on a more regular basis is taken care of by the Adopt-A-Highway program and by people working off their community service time because of a DUI or they owe child support, officials said.
Wednesday, Russell Ellingworth and his crew spent some time along Highway 1 north of Western Drive, picking up items intended for the dump that didn’t quite make it.
“We pick up a lot of trash between here and the dump,” said the Caltrans maintenance supervisor.
An eight-person crew, Ellingworth’s group is charged with keeping local highways clear of debris and in good repair. That includes fixing guardrails damaged in collisions and clearing downed trees and dead wildlife from highways 1, 9 and 17.
Things they found along the road Wednesday included refrigerators, rugs and toilets, as well as mattresses and chairs.
They also found touristy items such as beach towels and life vests, he said.
Sometimes Ellingworth’s crew finds money.
“People go through the drive-through restaurants and put their money on the dashboard,” he said. “Then when they get up to freeway speed, whoosh, the money gets swept out the window.”
Perhaps the most frustrating things his crew has had to deal with are homeless encampments. Passersby want Caltrans to kick the homeless out. Ellingworth’s job is to give the downtrodden 72 hours’ notice of Caltrans’ intent to clean up the campsite.
“(The homeless) pack up and leave, but they just come back when we’re gone,” he said.
By day’s end, Ellingworth’s crew had picked up 20 cubic yards, or two truckloads, of trash.
Last year, the state spent $57 million to pluck 182,000 cubic yards of trash and other discarded items from the side of the state’s highways. That’s the equivalent of 11,300 garbage trucks full of litter or a string of them 60.5 miles long, according to Caltrans.
Items of value are kept for 30 days for their owner to retrieve. After that, unclaimed recyclable items are recycled, while the rest is disposed of, said Susana Cruz, Caltrans public information officer.
People can file a claim online at www.dot.ca.gov/dist05. Click on “Public Affairs,” then “Questions and Comments.”