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.
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.