Arizona highways are looking a little messy these days. Take a drive along State Route 95 and you’ll notice plenty of trash and debris collecting along the roadside.
State officials say the culprit is covid-19 restrictions that kept inmate work crews from performing their regular cleanup duties. The Arizona Department of Transportation conducts some cleanup throughout the year, but the department relies heavily on inmate work programs to keep roadway corridors clear. Those work crews, of course, were grounded last March when the Arizona Department of Corrections suspended all outside work programs because of the pandemic. The result? The amount of trash picked up in 2020 in Mohave County was about half as much as crews collected the previous year — and that’s not because we were generating less of it. On the contrary, Lake Havasu City saw big visitor numbers throughout the pandemic, and there’s evidence that our general population is up, too.
We’re not suggesting that the state should have had inmates work during the height of the pandemic. A temporary shutdown was the right thing to do. However, that’s where the responsibility ended. It shouldn’t have taken nearly a year and a half for communities in Arizona to figure out they had a litter problem.The state should have made it clear to cities and counties that the work had stopped —and encouraged them to take the reins in the meantime. Funding dedicated to those inmate work programs could have been transferred to local communities willing to do the work. Mohave County has its own inmate work program, after all. And Lake Havasu City and other local communities are blessed to be home to thousands of community-minded folks who might have volunteered to pick up trash and organized group cleanups.
It’s not too late to engage local volunteers. The state already offers a pretty robust Adopt-a-Highway program, which has 1,100 volunteer groups cleaning nearly 2,000 miles of landscape along state highways. Of course, that program requires affiliation with an organization, and a long-term commitment that not everyone can offer. The state should make it more clear how individuals can target volunteer efforts on a short-term basis.
The Department of Corrections says it’s now re-activating those inmate work crew, but there’s no timeline about when they might resume their work in Mohave County.
Until that happens, it’s on all of us to keep the community looking good. — and that might mean putting on a neon vest and doing it ourselves.
— Today’s News-Herald