When you discard trash from your vehicle on one of Maryland's highways, do you ever wonder where it goes? One cigarette butt flicked out of the window, a fast food bag, a small plastic wrapper.
Take a moment and think about where it goes. It has to go somewhere. Now I ask you to think about the cost savings of one moment of restraint. One moment of selfless responsibility and love for the beauty of this great state.
The Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) has a record amount of highway construction projects underway across the state to reduce congestion and improve safety. We maintain 2,500 bridges and 17,000 miles of non-toll state roads, the interstate, and U.S. and state numbered routes in Maryland's 23 counties.
On top of all that, MDOT SHA spends nearly $8 million every year to remove litter along Maryland highways. That's $8 million of taxpayer money. Your money. My money. Every single year. Litter removal also pulls skilled MDOT SHA workers away from other functions like highway repairs. This requires funds that could otherwise be used to repave roads, install traffic signals and lighting, or assist with other safety critical activities.
Most importantly, littering is extremely harmful to our environment, with trash typically carried by stormwater to streams and rivers, and in some cases entering drinking water reservoirs and the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland is a maritime state, a beautiful state. The cleanliness of our waterways and our Chesapeake Bay is a major part of our identity and reputation.
Last month, MDOT SHA launched the "We Live Here, Too" education effort in conjunction with Earth Day to reinforce the message about the harmful impacts of litter on our roadsides and natural resources. April has come and gone. Memorial Day weekend is upon us — one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. As you get on the road over Memorial Day weekend or any time during the summer travel season, we urge you to treat every day like Earth Day and think about where that trash goes when you throw it out of the vehicle and onto the highway. Think about where it goes and what it costs.
Maryland is your home. It is my home. Let's all work collectively to treat our roads and roadsides as we would our own homes. Let's keep our roads and this beautiful state litter-free. Gov. Larry Hogan said it best last August as he unveiled the "Maryland Proud" license plates at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge: "You would be hard pressed to find another state that has more pride than our great state of Maryland."
MDOT SHA has Maryland pride. With that as our guiding principle, we will continue to make environmental protection a top priority. We owe that to Marylanders and all the visitors who travel our roads. But we need your help in that effort, too. Have Maryland pride. Don't litter.
Greg Slater is a native Marylander and administrator of the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration; Twitter: @MDSHA.