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'Colorado Can Do Better': Trashy Highways Getting Worse

(CBS4) - Trash and debris piling up along Colorado highways and interstates is an issue as old as time, but is it getting worse? A Lakewood man insists it is and says it's time the Colorado Department of Transportation and drivers make some changes.

The beauty of Colorado is one of the major reasons why Mike McGuirk and his family call the state home, but lately there's one view he can't seem to stand.

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"Food wrappers, plastic bags, you'll see different foams, like polystyrene foams," McGuirk said.

McGuirk says the amount trash along the sides of interstates and highways is unavoidable and appearing to get worse. He sees it every day commuting along U.S. 6, as well as other parts of the metro area.

"You can see that the amount of trash is just getting larger, and it seems to be that despite there being systems in place that they're not effective," he said.

McGuirk, who is a scientist and professor at the Colorado School of Mines, said his concerns aren't just aesthetic ones. He also worries about the long-term implications of trash piling up on the shoulders, medians and off ramps of Colorado highways.

"This is how trash gets into our communities and gets into our beautiful nature and gets into interfering our wildlife," McGuirk said.

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CDOT is the agency that handles debris and trash cleanup along interstates, as well as state and U.S. highways. According to Presley Fowler, a CDOT spokesperson, teams within the maintenance department are seeing an increase in littering.

"If you look at the numbers, you do see an increase in debris calls, costs, and pickups we're having to do from year to year," Fowler said.

About 5% of the maintenance department's budget is used for debris cleanup, Fowler said. In the last fiscal year, that added up to about $1.7 million for addressing the Denver Metro Area alone.

While maintenance crews go out every day, Fowler said they must often prioritize road repairs and other hazards to drivers. Increased traffic related to the city's growth also contributes to the issue.

"With more people, we definitely do see more trash and debris on the roadways, and we do as much as we can with the resources we have, but we definitely need that driver responsibility help as well," she said.

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CDOT also relies on Adopt-A-Highway programs, which involve groups cleaning litter from small stretches of roads at least four times a year.

McGuirk is in the process of signing up to adopt a one mile stretch of U.S. 6. He said he believes the problem starts and ends with each Coloradan, but ultimately CDOT must improve too.

"I think Colorado can do better," he said. "If it is a challenge, it is a challenge that we need to meet because it's very clear this is getting worse."

Drivers can also notify CDOT about areas of concern, so a crew can be sent out to address it.

In the Denver Metro Area, you can call CDOT customer service at 303-759-2368. Anyone can also report concerns via an online form on the customer service website.

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