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Ideas and Follow-through

Adopt A HighwayAt a wedding reception last night I sat next to a guy who is just about to retire from 35 years of working with the State of California, much, if not all, of it working as an architect with CalTrans (California Dept. of Transportation). My wife knew him from many decades ago — the older brother of the mother of the bride, her friend from childhood. My wife introduced us and told me that his claim to fame was starting the Adopt-a-Highway program in California.

He started it 15 years ago, springboarding off a similar idea he’d heard about in Texas. He developed a program that he said “saved the State $10 million the first year.” Having always believed the State receives money from the sponsors, I was puzzled, so I asked, “What do you mean it saved the state money? I thought it brought money in.

It turns out that before the program started, the State of California was spending $20,000,000 annually picking up litter on the highways. That alone is staggering with all the implications as to what pigs people are with their own environment. Anyway, this guy came up with a plan to ask large and small companies if they would go clean up a section of freeway as a means of giving back to the community. Some of them were enthusiastic enough to organize their own employees into weekend cleaning teams, while most others were just fine with hiring custodial help to do the work for them.

Either way, the highways were getting cleaned up a section at a time, and it wasn’t costing the State as much anymore. In exchange, the companies that did or hired out the cleaning got recognition by means of the familiar Adopt A Highway signs along the road.

Along came two young men just out of college who approached him with their own vision: they could see that most of the corporations involved were not actually doing the litter pick-up themselves, so these fellows asked if they could broker the cleaning crews for the State. Once they got the OK, they started the Adopt A Highway Maintenance Corporation which they sold a few years later to someone else.

Seven years ago, both of these young men retired. Millionaires.

1 Comment

  1. Fantastic entry!! I loved every part of this, from the neat little understated graphic you used to the inclusion of that quote from your impromptu “interview” of this unsung innovator. I had no idea how the sponsorship program worked; I didn’t think these folks paid anything to the state but I had no idea they were saving so much money either!

    And then to hear of the innovation that the first innovation inspired, that’s just a great story all around.

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