Somewhere beneath the trash and weeds spoiling Fresno’s freeways beats the heart of a city that aches to be beautiful.
We know this because dozens of Bee readers have taken the time to write us about the eyesore that is Freeway 41 through Fresno. We haven’t printed them all because of space limitations, but we thank everyone who has sent us their thoughts on the subject.
This ugly combination of litter and weeds does many things – none of them good. It sends a message to people visiting or passing through our city that we lack civic pride. It makes local residents question Fresno itself: Aren’t we better than this? And it is downright dangerous and costly, as evidenced by the recent blazes that the Fresno Fire Department has had to snuff out along Freeway 99 and Freeway 41.
The good news is, Caltrans – which is responsible for maintaining freeway landscaping – has promised Fresno City Manager Bruce Rudd that it will clean things up over the next 30 to 45 days.
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Now, before you blow a gasket and rant about Caltrans being late to the party, you should know why the state agency had failed to knock down the weeds. The short version is that metal thieves have created havoc with much of the infrastructure on Fresno’s freeway corridors.
They’ve destroyed the landscaping irrigation systems, and stripped wire from overhead lights and onramp traffic-control meters. Thus, Caltrans has been forced to move budget dollars for landscaping and trash removal to repairing lights and meters.
In an interview with an editorial board member, Rudd identified another hurdle. Our region has added many miles to its freeway system – the Freeway 180 extension, for example – without providing maintenance funding. The solution, Rudd says, is to designate money for freeway beautification in the next Measure C transportation sales tax renewal. However, the current Measure C doesn’t expire until 2027.
The shame of this situation is that we’ve been seriously talking about cleaning and greening Fresno for the past 25 years, and except for a glorious spell under then-Mayor Jim Patterson, circa 2000, we’ve been like a dog chasing its tail.
Even though funding is limited and some folks – sorry, there’s no polite way to say it – are thoughtless, disrespectful, littering slobs, we can still clean up our freeways, highways and streets.
One big problem is the trash and green clippings that fly out of garbage trucks on Freeway 41. We’ve all seen it happen. Again and again. We challenge local haulers to show their drivers how to prevent this from happening. Every local hauler that pledges to keep Fresno and surrounding communities clean will get a thumbs-up from us.
Next, local volunteer groups aren’t allowed to pick up trash alongside freeways because of liability concerns. But they might be able to “adopt” the land adjacent to freeway entry and exit ramps. Rudd says the city and Caltrans are hopeful of soon putting such a program in place.
Finally, there is personal responsibility. Don’t toss stuff out the window. If you’re a pickup truck driver, check the bed for debris and plastic bags before firing up the engine and heading to the freeway.
The choice is ours, Fresno.
Do we want to stand for trash?