Litter on highway stock photo

The drive along Alabama 99 now has cleaner views, thanks to a litter pickup this week that has cleared more than 3 tons of trash from the roadsides.

Limestone County District 4 Commissioner LaDon Townsend said he had called the Alabama Department of Transportation to see what could be done about the problem, given that it's a frequently traveled highway through his district that falls under ALDOT's jurisdiction. Under usual circumstances, litter pickup along such routes would be handled by state prison inmates, but that practice was stopped during the coronavirus pandemic, Townsend said.

This is no longer the case in Limestone County, where inmates who meet certain criteria can join work detail to perform duties such as litter pickup along county roads. Townsend said he was told if the county inmates were available to pick up along the state highway, ALDOT would provide help with traffic control as they worked.

"The trash had gotten so bad, we had to do something to get it picked up," Townsend said.

They arranged for the litter pickup to take place this week, while schools were out for spring break and traffic might not be as heavy. The crew started 7 a.m. Monday at the intersection of Alabama 99 and New Cut Road, then worked their way towards the old Owens Elementary School, collecting 3,500 pounds of litter on their first day.

They resumed cleanup 7 a.m. Tuesday, bringing the total to 6,200 pounds by 3 p.m.

"It's unbelievable around Owens, how much trash they picked up and how much different it looks," Townsend said. "... It probably took them about an hour and a half to pick up a section of 250, 300 yards, because the trash was so bad on the edge."

Unlike other cleanups recently held in Limestone County, which have featured volunteers picking up large items dumped on the roadside, Townsend said the trash being collected from Alabama 99 was small — soda cans, bottles, fast food wrappers and bags, for example.

"That's what makes it so bad," he said. "It's not like Buzzard Roost, where people are dumping. This is stuff people are throwing out the car window."

He said the inmates who work on litter patrol in his district were eager to help clean up the highway and could continue to work on the project as long as litter remains a problem and the pandemic prevents the state from cleaning the area.

"These are the things we can do that don't cost a lot of money but can make a big impact on our community," Townsend said. "... It makes a huge impact on people coming from other states to bring jobs here, build houses ... for people to bring their family here to go to school. We need to do whatever we can on our part to make it attractive to them."

As of Tuesday afternoon, the crew had cleaned more than 9 miles of the highway. Inmates were set to continue throughout the week, weather-permitting, to pick up Alabama 99 from New Cut Road to the Lauderdale-Limestone county line, a stretch of about 17 miles.

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