Spring cleaning is more than seasonal at ODOT; department rakes in two national recognitions for beautification efforts
Butterflies, bees, blooms and beautification! We’re all abuzz and aflutter over our recent national recognition. Two awards were recently bestowed to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority for outstanding efforts toward litter reduction and pollinator-friendly plantings. These programs are growing and excelling when it comes to the department’s beautification efforts and the determination to enhance and change the public’s perception about litter. Together, we can keep our highways clean and safe for everyone.
ODOT and OTA were among four Oklahoma state agencies recognized at the annual Keep America Beautiful National Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C., in early 2023 and one of two DOTs given the “Outside the Box” award by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March for the department’s innovation and implementation of the Monarch Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances.
For 13 consecutive years, these agencies have received the State Agency Partnership award from Keep America Beautiful. The award is presented to state agencies that join with their KAB state affiliate to combat litter. The agencies support several Keep Oklahoma Beautiful programs including anti-litter education, the Great American Cleanup and the Environmental Excellence awards celebration. These state-led efforts involve thousands of volunteers statewide but litter reduction continues to be a persistent challenge.
Every year ODOT spends nearly $6 million to clean up litter along highways and OTA spends another $1 million in pick-up costs on Oklahoma’s turnpikes. That total does not include city or county governments or the hundreds of volunteer hours put toward the cause across the state.
“Litter can range from unsightly to potentially deadly if left on a highway or interstate,” said ODOT Operations Director Shawn Davis. “Even with the tremendous effort put forth by both agencies and the hundreds of volunteers statewide, it is not enough to fully combat the pervasive safety issues that litter creates. We ask the public to become our partners in highway safety by putting litter only in the trash can.”
In addition to being one of the first signatory partners to the nationwide Monarch CCAA Program, ODOT has dedicated 2,206 acres in state rights-of-way across its eight field maintenance districts toward Monarch conservation specifically.
Another effort that can be adversely hampered by litter is the conservation mowing practices by ODOT and OTA to enhance habitat, preserving wildflower areas, adding pollinator-friendly plant species to seed mixes and monitoring suitable Monarch habitat on highways using spatial modeling maps.
The department also participates in outreach events with other state agencies and partners and currently maintains educational display gardens at the Oklahoma City visitor center on I-35 and at ODOT headquarters in the State Capitol complex.
Other beautification initiatives include:
- The annual TRASH-OFF event every April, which is a litter reduction effort as part of the national Great American Clean Up. In 2022, there were 17,540 registered participants who collected more than 4 million pounds of litter and cleaned nearly 1,500 miles of roads.
- The annual Trash Poster contest that encourages kindergarten through 12th-grade students to highlight the state’s anti-litter message through art. Winners are then printed in a statewide calendar.
- OTA maintains the Oklahoma Litter Hotline (1-888-5-LITTER) where people call to report a car’s license plate when there are littering incidents. Notices are mailed to the reported offenders.
- The Adopt-A-Highway program provides groups materials needed to clean up a designated 2-mile stretch of highway right-of-way at least four times per a two-year agreement.
- The Wildflower Planting Program is another effort in beautification that the public can easily identify. Maintenance crews plant wildflowers along highway rights-of-ways to help with soil erosion in some areas and to promote bee and butterfly populations across Oklahoma.
What can you do to help? Don’t be a litterbug, call OTA’s Litter Hotline (1-888-5-LITTER) to report a vehicle’s license plate when there are littering incidents, volunteer for a clean-up and check out www.drivesafelyoklahoma.com for more highway safety resources. Flutter by our sites on Twitter, Facebook at @OKDOT or on Instagram @OklahomaTransportation.