What is an Adopt a Highway Program?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

With over two decades of history, the US Adopt a Highway program is a means of allowing local groups to take responsibility for cleaning up a stretch of highway located somewhere in the general vicinity of the group’s activity. The program began under the auspices of the Texas Department of Transportation during the early 1980s. The idea came about after personnel associated with the department took notice of trash falling onto the roads from open pickup trucks. Soon, the idea of developing a citizen driven campaign that would allow civic groups, businesses, and non-profit organizations to claim a section of state and country roadways and commit to regular road cleanup.

The Adopt a Highway program is widely used throughout the United States.
The Adopt a Highway program is widely used throughout the United States.

Over time, basic criteria for participating in the Adopt a Highway program was ironed out. Some of the qualifications included committing to at least a quarterly highway cleanup time schedule, selecting from state approved sponsored highways, and volunteers going through a basic volunteer safety training program. With a few years, the program became established around the United States, with most states following the model developed by Texas. Along with helping to beautify the roadways around the country, local groups also were recognized by the placement of signs along their stretch of adopted highway that bore the name of the organization that had assumed responsibility for the cleanup of that section of road.

While for the most part, the Adopt a Highway program has run smoothly, there have been some points of controversy. Because the program essentially makes it possible for any type of group to apply for and be awarded a section of road for freeway cleanup, there have been instances when unpopular groups have become part of the program. Public outcry about the inclusion of supremacist or radical political groups led to a decision from the United States Supreme Court that made exclusion of any properly organized group from the program a violation of First Amendment rights.

Today, the Adopt a Highway program is in full swing all over the United States. In addition, many locations outside the US have established their own programs, making use of the original model. As this movement to engage private citizens in highway clean-up continues to grow, the hope is that driving down highways will more often include a view that is uncluttered by fast food bags, old tires, and soda cans.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@Markerrag -- if having the Klan take part in the Adopt a Highway program is embarrassing, then blame the program and not the First Amendment. If the government starts such a program, it must allow all eligible groups to join it.

But, you are right. The fact that the Klan still exists is embarrassing. Still, the First Amendment protects even those groups we don't like.


Controversy is right. According to the First Amendment, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan were able to adopt a portion of the highway running to Harrison from the Missouri border. That's right -- millions of travelers heading south from Missouri were greeted into the Natural State by the blasted Klan.

I'm not sure if the Klan still has that part of the highway, but that never should have been allowed to happen.

Post your comments
Forgot password?