By the looks of the landscape, our homes are not the only thing in need of spring cleaning. The ditches and medians along our highways need lots of attention, too.

Drivers have tossed plastic bags, food wrappers, cigarette butts and all sorts of rubbish out car windows. They’ve left sofas, refrigerators and “anything else they want to get rid of,” said Ernest Lloyd, MnDOT’s statewide Adopt a Highway program manager.

Not only are those litterbug scofflaws guilty of a petty misdemeanor, they’re making things unsightly. “The ditch is not your trash can,” Lloyd said.

Last year, 45,000 volunteers spent more than 180,000 hours picking up after those who left a mess, and they stuffed bags with more than 960,000 pounds of litter.

Volunteers representing schools, businesses, faith-based organizations, families and individuals “keep the roadways beautiful and save taxpayers money,” Lloyd said. “When our volunteers are out cleaning the roadway ditches, MnDOT employees use their time to maintain our highways. It’s a win-win for the state and it shows that Minnesotans care about their state.”

Their efforts save MnDOT about $7 million a year and keep about 10,000 miles of road clean, or at least cleaner, Lloyd said.

MnDOT has enough volunteers to clean up about 500 sections of roadway in the Twin Cities, but not nearly enough for roads outstate. Last week MnDOT put out the plea for more folks to help clean the ditches. Trash bags, safety vests and training are provided.

MnDOT will pick up the filled bags left on the side of the road. As a thank you, it also posts signs along the adopted segments of roads to recognize the volunteer groups. Participants are asked for a two-year commitment and to clean both sides of a 2- to3-mile segment of roadway at least twice a year. To register or get more information, go tomndot.gov/adopt.

Things get messy

Trash aside, here is where things could get messy for drivers this week:

MnDOT resumes building a third eastbound lane on I-694 between Lexington Avenue in Arden Hills and Dale Street in Little Canada. A third westbound lane was built last year.

In preparation for this year’s work, westbound traffic will go down to two lanes by Tuesday morning and use the far right lanes. The flyover bridge from northbound I-35E to westbound I-694 will also go down to one lane and the ramp from Rice Street to westbound I-694 will close for the entire construction season. By next week, eastbound traffic will be down to two lanes, separated by a concrete median. Drivers will have to pick either the right lane, which will allow access to local streets, or the left, which will be a through lane, meaning drivers won’t be able to get off the freeway until they reach I-35E.

On Tuesday there will be a bigger impact as the ramp from Shingle Creek Parkway to eastbound I-94/694 closes for two weeks.

Drivers on Monday will find Hwy. 169 in the west metro reduced to a single lane most of the way between I-394 and Lincoln Drive. The epicenter of activity will be around Cedar Lake Road. That’s on top of the Nine Mile Creek bridge closure from Lincoln Drive to Bren Road. Back in the east metro, White Bear Avenue from Old Hudson Road to 3rd Street will close beginning Monday.

 

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.