The highways around Bakersfield are notoriously dirty. But, this week highway maintenance crews dedicated two days to cleaning up a portion of Highway 99.
They said this is the first step in a concentrated effort to clean up the roads.
Caltrans said it plans to dedicate a few days a month solely to highway clean-up in Kern County. A supervisor said any more time would take away from their regular maintenance duties.
"People who say it's dirty, they're right," said John Enriquez, Chairman for Keep Bakersfield Beautiful. "It's an ongoing problem."
Styrofoam cups, newspaper, and plastic bags serve as highway decorations in Bakersfield.
"It looks bad. Tourists are coming through here daily and it just looks bad," said Frank Ornelaz, Caltrans Maintenance Supervisor. "We would like to hit it more aggressively, but we are short-staffed."
But, even with their short staff, for two days this week Caltrans took time off from regular maintenance duties and devoted its entire staff to highway clean-up.
"We're combining crews, doing a little gang maintenance, getting some weed pulling done, some shoulder work, some sweeping," said Ornelaz.
With 20 workers, Caltrans cleaned less than half a mile in two days on Highway 99.
"There was a lot of trash pick-up and weeds. We got about six or eight truckloads full of trash and weeds that we hauled off to the dump," said Ornelaz.
But, this takes them away from other jobs.
"When they pull the crews off to do litter removal, they fall behind on the maintenance, and they just don't have staffing unfortunately to do both," said Enriquez.
Caltrans could not give specifics about how often crews will plan highway clean-ups but they hope to dedicate at least a few days a month.
"We're trying to stay on top of it, but as you can see it's kind of a drop in the bucket," said Ornelaz.
Caltrans said next time crews go out they'll focus on cleaning up Highway 58. But, they don't see their crews cleaning up as a long-term solution. They believe inmate crews will be back before the end of the year.
Caltrans said they have the funding to get inmate crews back on the highways picking up trash. Now, all they need is inmates.
Caltrans had a contract with the Shafter Community Correctional Facility, which ended when the prison shut down last November. Shafter is currently negotiating a deal to bring L.A. county inmates to the empty Shafter prison.
Caltrans said they are confident that this will happen and that in a few months they will get their inmate crews back.
"Once the inmates are back, Caltrans will be out five days a week with four crews cleaning up the freeways so we'll see a big difference here real soon," said Enriquez.