March 9, 1985
James Evans, an engineer with the Texas Department of Transportation, spearheaded the effort to keep the roadways around his Tyler, Texas community clean of litter. He’d noticed trash flying out of the back of a pickup truck and decided to take action.
Initially, he approached civic and community groups to volunteer to collect the trash, which was increasingly costly to the DOT. Interest was lukewarm until Billy Black, the public information officer for TxDOT’s Tyler district turned the idea into an official program, with regular clean-ups, training and equipment for volunteers – and the now-famous signage. The Tyler Civitan Club was the first to take the DOT up on the opportunity and adopted two miles (3.2 kilometers) of U.S. Route 69 just north of Loop 323 between the city and Interstate 20.
Since that initial program, 49 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan have initiated similar efforts.
The program has not been without controversy, however. The Ku Klux Klan and other controversial groups have attempted to become volunteers, and have signs along highways with their names attached. Missouri, where the KKK adopted a highway, adopted specific rules that barred such organizations from participating. However, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that this action was unconstitutional on free-speech grounds.