OT: Who's responsible for cleaning Michigan highways, interstates & exit ramps?

Submitted by chuck bass on July 14th, 2018 at 11:50 AM

I travel all over the state for work and it bothers me to see how filthy most of our highway system is. When all that Amazon hoopla was going on I couldn't help but think if they scouted the area it would unfortunately take them all of 10 minutes of driving around Metro Detroit to be disgusted. That said, some small sections of I-75, I-94, I-96, US-23 appear to be very well maintained – a few exit ramps are spotless and have extraordinary landscaping (e.g., Auburn Hills). The state's marketing is lakes, nature, outdoors, fresh air ... copious amounts of litter, debris, fast food waste, soda bottles, hubcaps and blown out shredded tires is so incongruent of the brand. I don't get why this isn't a top priority. I've reached out to MDOT (they have a $4 billion annual budget) and they blame others, I've reached out to local gov and they blame MDOT – either way, it's obvious neither really cares.


chuck bass

July 14th, 2018 at 12:27 PM ^

Brings me to another point on top of tackling cleanup: Why isn't there any law enforcement to tamp down the behavior? Local jurisdictions could make a mint ticketing litterers. Just have an LEO scout the exit ramp and have five cruisers waiting for the signal. Whether it's a cigarette butt, coffee cup or bag of fast food ticket them $100 each. As it stands, there's zero enforcement, thus no consequence. This should be a state-wide, multi-pronged effort to beautify Michigan. Pure Michigan ... the cleanest state in America.


July 14th, 2018 at 5:19 PM ^

They sure as hell would pay it if it were tied to their license and plate renewal.  When I worked for EDS in Chicago our parking enforcement rate of collection went from 3% to 75% by the end of the first year and up to 90% by year three.  Just knowing that littering is enforced will make some people think twice.  There is a way.

Unfiltered Manball

July 14th, 2018 at 12:16 PM ^

From time to time, I would see teens in safety orange along the freeway shoulders and medians picking up trash.  I figured it was some sort of punishment / community service hours for misdeeds. Haven't seen that in a while- must be all teens in the state are behaving....


July 14th, 2018 at 3:41 PM ^

Prisoners cleaning garbage would seem to make sense.

It's Michigan, a state with one of the worst infrastructures in the US.  Dirt roads, pot holes... when you cross the line from Ohio into Michigan, you don't require the "pure Michigan" sign for notification. Strangely, polls show many Michiganders don't want to spend money to get the roads up to snuff; they haven't figured out the cost of messed up suspensions, blown tires and bent wheels.  



July 14th, 2018 at 12:18 PM ^

I mean, you would think MDOT is ultimately responsible for the upkeep of their own right-of-way, but here in Wayne County, the county seems to do most of it, even employing people with a public service component to their court sentences to skewer trash along I-94. On the M-roads, I think many of those are in the state's ROW but maintained locally. The relationship when it comes to maintenance on area roads seems multi-layered, to say the least. 

Hotel Putingrad

July 14th, 2018 at 12:47 PM ^

Privatization at work. Government has abdicated all responsibility to those organizations that choose to ""adopt" a stretch of highway. The fact that so much of the roadways is thus neglected gives you insight into just how many responsible, socially invested corporate citizens exist.

Also, criminals.


July 14th, 2018 at 1:00 PM ^

Corporations, the Immigrant for Democrats.

I always enjoy how partisans boil down multifaceted failures to a single member of society. It’s a reminder of why our country is the way it is. 

Both parties have ignored infrastructure for decades. To the point that we need $2.5 Trillion in repairs and upgrades. We are failing to upkeep our country which in time will result in a catastrophic event occurring.



Hotel Putingrad

July 14th, 2018 at 1:21 PM ^

I'm not anti-corporations, I'm just saying that there is a collective failure of will. Governmental impotence, which you rightly ascribe to both parties, means the private sector has to fill the void. But there aren't enough good actors around to address the widespread decline of our infrastructure. Add in a healthy dose of environmental hostlity, and you get observations like the OP's.


July 14th, 2018 at 2:17 PM ^

I'm OK with the gap-filling "corporate citizenship" of the adopt-a-highway program, even if just for show.

It's the transfer of public responsibility for things like public education and prisons into corporate hands that makes me pull my hair out. Much like for-profit healthcare, the incentive is always to strip services to the bone and distribute the meat under the guise of "shareholder value." 



July 14th, 2018 at 12:48 PM ^

I can't help but cringe when I see stories of Japan's fans cleaning up the stadium during the World Cup, when we couldn't give two shits about littering. I picked up a discarded fast food bag the other day that was literally 5 feet from a trash bin. It's incredible to me that people can live like animals like this.

I've always wondered why every single community service sentence passed down from courts isn't spent on cleaning up our roadways. Not to get too much into politics, but roadside clean up could be government-funded employment that could take the place of unemployment/welfare assistance in many cases.

Mr Miggle

July 14th, 2018 at 2:24 PM ^

There are many other worthwhile community service jobs. I think it makes sense for sentences to mandate those that fit the crime whenever possible.

If convicts are going to work on our roads, how about having them fix potholes? We shouldn't need a large work force to pick up after careless slobs. That's an issue that ideally should be addressed by prevention.



July 14th, 2018 at 1:21 PM ^

If we didn’t live like rude, self-centered slobs, we wouldn’t have a cleanup problem. Movie theatres have to pay a cleanup staff to tidy up the theatre between shows. Not just to sweep up spilled popcorn, but to pick up soda cups, popcorn bags and candy wrappers left behind because it is too much trouble to drop them in the waste basket on the way out.

Grocery store parking lots are strewn with shopping carts because shoppers are too lazy to return them to nearby cart corrals.

Streets and highways are littered with trash because people don’t want their own waste messing up their vehicles so they throw it out the window and mess up the whole state for the rest of us. It makes me wonder why so many people think that we humans are so special. To say that some people live like animals is an insult to animals.

Mr. Elbel

July 16th, 2018 at 8:01 AM ^

The worst part is that people grow accustomed to others picking up after them. It's like the parent that always picks up their kids' toys and dishes and then wonder why they always leave them out. If the movie theater didn't have staff to pick up after shows, people wouldn't assume that it's someone else's responsibility.


Of course, as a business the theaters are going to pamper their customers to make their experience as lax as possible. But the point remains, when we don't have to clean up our own messes, we have little trouble making them. In the case of highways, there's a lack of pride, yes. If only there were a way that citizens could 'adopt a highway' or something to clean things up and take the responsibility upon themselves...


July 14th, 2018 at 1:23 PM ^

There are never soda bottles/cans littered on the side of the road. That is one thing you never see. Those get picked up quickly


July 14th, 2018 at 1:43 PM ^

M-DOT and local road commission takes care of expressway maintenance. The same crews who plow snow also mow/clean up...if it's not getting done its on those crews

 Living in SE Michigan Monroe county  US 23 is very well managed.


July 14th, 2018 at 2:28 PM ^

Ultimately it's a cultural issue, right? You'll still have to spend the money on cleanup, but I was growing up in Texas when the "Don't Mess With Texas" campaign started. Yes, it was an anti-litter public service campaign, not a political or social middle finger to the rest of the country. The Fabulous Thunderbirds ad was my personal favorite:

It's difficult to pin down whether the money spent on the campaign was worth it (very fair article  here (LINK) at Watchdog that is an interesting and relatively quick read. There was some evidence that litter pickup costs dropped after the campaign and especially after the one-year restart when it was brought back in 2014, but of course, that's correlative at best.

But what I can tell you is that it really did make a cultural impact. People got mad at litterers. Friends put social pressure on friends not to do it. If some kid at school let some trash start blowing away, the rest of us would yell "DON'T MESS WITH TEXAS!" at them.

At the end of the day, social pressure is the only thing that ever changes attitudes towards anything.

True Blue Grit

July 14th, 2018 at 2:35 PM ^

All true.  But you forgot about the roadkill in your tirade.  Michigan could change its name to The Roadkill State if they wanted to, based on the enormous amount of it you see on and next to the roads.  I've driven in many other states, and I've never seen a state even close to as bad as Michigan in regard to not cleaning up dead animal carcasses.  I've seen some in Michigan that are so decayed, they've obviously been there for months.  Between that and the trash and the crumbling pavement, it sends the wrong message as you say to potential businesses that may be thinking about moving here.  

The real bottom line reason for it is they just don't give a shit.  They've developed low standards over the many years and just tolerate it.  


July 14th, 2018 at 2:48 PM ^

The State of Michigan contracts with local counties to maintain roadways.  That involves snow removal, grass cutting and pot hole repair.  Major reconstruction is done by private contractors hired by MDOT.  Many people roads are cleaned of debris by private entities who are then approved by MDOT and recognized by road signage.  I do not know how often the public entities are required to clean up debris once committed to the project.  Usually I see two or three times a year on some stretches of freeway.  Most of these stretches of freeway are not in the City of Detroit which is sad.  Anyway, Road Commissions and MDOT do not have resources for debris cleanup due to lack of Act 51 monies generated by the State coffers.


July 14th, 2018 at 3:42 PM ^

I'm out on the construction on i-75 in Monroe County right now, the side of the highway here is ridiculous. Garbage, pieces of tire, body parts. You name it, you'll see it. 

House Mother

July 14th, 2018 at 5:10 PM ^

When I drove the freeways during the week that the Super Bowl was in Detroit, they have never looked better. Didn’t see a sofa on the shoulder for at least 10 days.  If we can spiff up for visitors, we should be able to keep them that way.