Adopt-A-Highway volunteers pick up roadside litter alongside I-5 in the Seattle area in 2019. Photo courtesy Washington State Department of Transportation

Adopt-A-Highway volunteers pick up roadside litter alongside I-5 in the Seattle area in 2019. Photo courtesy Washington State Department of Transportation

Fortunato-sponsored litter control bill passes House of Representatives

Bill would reimburse local government litter pick-up, require more litter prevention messaging

Correction: A previous version of this story reported that SB 5040, as passed, would require the Department of Ecology to prioritize funding litter control on state highways when giving out money to state agencies for litter programs. This part of the original bill was removed by an amendment passed in the House, so the bill no longer requires the Department of Ecology to prioritize funding in this way.

A bill sponsored by Washington Sen. Phil Fortunato (R-Auburn) that aims to clean up trash on state highways has passed the Senate and House and is soon headed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk.

The “Welcome to Washington Act” would create more opportunities for agencies to conduct litter pickup, and reimburse local governments for cleaning up trash on their highways.

The bill, SB 5040, earned unanimous approval in the Senate in March, and passed the House of Representatives on April 7 with only one no vote. Once the final text of the bill is signed off in both houses, it goes to Inslee’s desk to sign into law.

“Traveling a lot for work, I notice our roadways are a mess,” Fortunato said in a press release when the bill first passed the Senate. “There are bumpers and tires, sometimes even couches on the side of our highways. Heck, you could almost furnish a house with what you find.”

The Department of Ecology would be required to work with the Washington Department of Transportation to put out litter prevention messaging, and to work with the Washington State Patrol to coordinate litter patrols.

Safety concerns prevent the Ecology Youth Corps from picking up litter in some areas on highways, so the bill would allow those crews to coordinate with WSDOT and come in to pick up litter when WSDOT is already closing roads for scheduled maintenance.

In addition, local governments would be able to apply to Ecology for reimbursement when they clean up litter on state highway ramps in their jurisdictions.

Enumclaw Public Works Director Jeff Lincoln said the city would “certainly evaluate” the potential benefits of going after litter on highways 164, 169 and 410 if the bill is successful.

“Our major problem with litter is not the typical trash thrown out car windows, rather debris falling from trucks creating real hazards on the highway, such as lose gravel, particularly on SR 410 near Farman Street,” Lincoln said. “The City is always looking for funding for programs that enhance the quality of life, safety and attractiveness of the community, so we would certainly look at things like this program if it passes the legislature.”

Sen. Fortunato represents Washington’s 31st Legislative District, which stretches from Auburn and Edgewood to the eastern edge of King County and includes the cities of Enumclaw and Buckley.

The legislation is co-sponsored by 40th District Democrat Liz Lovelett and 19th District Republican Jeff Wilson.

On the House side, 96 representatives voted in favor of the bill. Representative Bill Ramos (D-Issaquah) voted no, while Representative Bob McCaslin (R-Spokane Valley) was excused.

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