Calling out Caltrans for Trashing the Bay

Apr 15, 2019

Bay Area roadways, as we’ve all seen firsthand, are heavily littered with trash. And most of the trash you see along the highway is headed right for San Francisco Bay.

That’s because Caltrans, the agency responsible for keeping freeways and highways clean, has been failing to do their job. Caltrans has consistently refused to take steps to stop highway trash pollution from reaching the Bay.

As a result, most of the trash on roadways gets washed and blown into storm drains, which connect to local creeks and the Bay.

In February, local regulators were deciding how to deal with the Bay Area’s significant highway trash problem. They released a draft plan that would require Caltrans to clean up only a fraction of the acreage the state agency controls.

The Baykeeper science team reviewed the plan and quickly identified how ineffective it would be at resolving the problem.

“For several years, Caltrans has ignored requirements imposed at the state and regional level to clean up trash,” said Ian Wren, Baykeeper Scientist. “If local agencies don’t require compliance in the Bay Area, Caltrans will continue allowing highway trash to pollute waterways.”

So Baykeeper, along with Save the Bay and EPA, advocated for more accountability, including requiring Caltrans to clean up a much larger area. Eventually, local regulators voted unanimously to take our recommendations and make the plan stronger. They more than doubled the acreage that Caltrans must routinely clean up.

In addition, they flagged Caltrans’ refusal to adequately address trash pollution over the past five years, and levied a hefty daily fine of $25,000 if the agency continues to ignore the problem.

Baykeeper will monitor Caltrans’ efforts to clean up highway trash before it pollutes the Bay. And we’ll continue advocating for cities, government agencies, and corporations to put an end to the Bay Area’s ugly trash epidemic.

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