State spends millions on spring cleaning for Ohio highways

Sean McDonnell
Akron Beacon Journal
An ODOT worker removes a tire from Interstate 77 northbound on Tuesday in Green.

Stop throwing your trash onto the highway. It could save you money. 

Taxpayers paid more than $40 million dollars to clean garbage off Ohio’s interstates in the past decade. And litter leavers aren’t slowing down. 

“We can clean up 5 miles of litter,” said Ray Marsch, local spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation. “You come back the next week or over the weekend, and it looks like we didn't do anything.”

It’s the equivalent of every man, woman and child in Ohio throwing about 33 cents out their window each year, but every spring Marsch said it's clear the problem hasn’t stopped. 

An ODOT worker removes trash from Interstate 77 northbound on Tuesday in Green.

After three-to-four months of snow, March is spent on trash duty. Across Northeast Ohio, he said crews picked up 5,500 bags of trash in the first week of March.

These stats only include the highways and state routes ODOT takes care of and not the city streets that each municipality cleans. Even so, anywhere from $3.8 to 4.5 million is spent on trash cleanup each year. 

Things don’t look any better at the county level. According to ODOT, just over $750,000 was spent in Summit County between 2010 and 2019 to pick up trash. Despite less people, more than $1 million was spent in Stark; another $540,000 was spent in Portage.

Across Summit, Stark, Portage, Wayne and Medina counties, $2,862,869 was spent between 2010 and 2019. ODOT spent $4.7 million in Cuyahoga County alone during those years. 

Money isn’t the only thing thrown out the window. ODOT workers, adopt-a-highway volunteers and inmates picking up trash spent over 1.7 million hours doing it from 2010 to 2019.

The majority of that work — 1.5 million hours of it — is done by the same ODOT crews that could be out fixing potholes, repairing guardrails or a host of other things, Marsch said.

“We have better things to do than picking up other people’s trash,” Marsch said. “Most all of this is preventable.” 

Where do 395,000 bags of trash per year come from? Marsch said some of it is debris falling out of trucks or the oddly not uncommon lawn chair that ends up on the side of the road. But he said the majority of it is water bottles, fast food wrappers and soda cans. 

ODOT workers remove trash from Interstate 77 northbound Tuesday in Green.

The $4 million a year could be spent better, ODOT Press Secretary Matt Bruning said. ODOT’s Safe Routes to School program, which builds sidewalks and upgrades signage to make it safer for children to walk or bike to school, is a $4 million program. 

ODOT could also buy 28 new snow plow trucks, or pave 28 miles of a two-lane road for $4 million. The full pavement replacement project on state Route 8 that stretches from Graham Road to state Route 303 cost $58.6 million, Marsch said. 

Figures for 2020 weren’t yet available. Despite traffic being down 15.5% for the year, Marsch said crews are reporting just as much litter. 

“It’s not getting cheaper,” he said. “The number of bags we’re picking up, it's not changing, it's not going down or anything like that.” 

Reach Reporter Sean McDonnell at 330-996-3186 or

ODOT workers remove trash from Interstate 77 northbound on Tuesday in Green, Ohio.