As budget cuts and prison closings shrink the inmate labor available to pick up trash along North Carolina highways, the N.C. Dept. of Transportation is trying to fill the gap with business sponsors who pay for litter removal by the mile. Blue signs have sprouted along Interstate 40 in Durham and Wake counties this year to promote the first handful of recruits to North Carolina’s Sponsor-A-Highway program. They range from the Angus Barn restaurant and other local stalwarts to Mixed Chicks, a national line of hair-care products. Prices vary, but most sponsors paid $650 up front for a sign with the company logo, plus $300 a month to have litter picked up about every four weeks along one sponsored mile of the highway shoulder. “We’re spending our money in the areas where our customers are, and getting our name out there,” said Michelle Mitchell with Garner-based Agri Supply Co., which has two signs along two interstates. “We’ve had a couple of customers who come in the store and mention the signs.”
The state collected 7.5 million pounds of trash last year. More than 4,600 civic groups and other volunteer squads in North Carolina’s Adopt-A-Highway program bagged 3.4 million pounds along 12,000 roadside miles. Another 2.3 million pounds was collected by minor criminal offenders sentenced to community service.