Caltrans Helps Make Clean Sweep of State

Conceptual art showing an aerial view of a landscape with bridge, road, and river with the Clean California logo in the foreground.

Clean California, through engagement and partnerships, tackles trash to transform communities

An ever-increasing amount of litter and debris is tarnishing California’s otherwise-beautiful landscape, creating roadside eyesores that require immediate attention and a substantial investment to prevent further degradation of the state highway system, local infrastructure, and natural resources.

Tackling the issue head-on, Governor Gavin Newsom launched Clean California as part of his California Comeback Plan, enlisting Caltrans, local governments, other partners and communities to clean up trash and debris statewide, beautify community gateways and public areas along highways, streets and roads, and provide good jobs to thousands of Californians. With $1.1 billion in funding over three years, Clean California is taking a holistic approach to significantly reduce trash from state and local roads, create jobs and beautify public spaces.

Photo of an Adopt-A-Highway sign along right of way. Freeway overpass and a person cleaning up litter along the roadway are visible in the background.

A volunteer with Caltrans’ Adopt-A-Highway program fills a bag with trash collected along U.S. Highway 50 in Rancho Cordova. This particular route was adopted by employees working for the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, one of nine state boards across California that protect and regulate water resources.

Caltrans has diverted more resources in recent years to meet its responsibility collecting trash discarded by drivers or strewn onto roadways by vehicles without a tarp, illegal dumping activities, and other sources that contribute to the unsightly roadsides.

In addition to being a potential threat to the environment, roadway litter poses a safety hazard to the traveling public and Caltrans maintenance workers. Clean California takes direct aim at this challenge with an investment of $418 million specifically for litter collection.

While Clean California directs significant funds to traditional trash collection, it also devotes nearly $600 million through two programs to clean up and beautify the state’s travel network.

Clean California is projected to create approximately 11,000 jobs through state and local efforts, including low-barrier maintenance jobs for vulnerable populations, as well as opportunities for local artists. Notably, these hiring efforts are creating career opportunities for veterans, students, people experiencing homelessness, and those re-entering society from incarceration.

Gov. Newsom has asked Caltrans to meet the moment, and the department has responded with an ambitious slate of litter collection activities and by advancing projects that will connect and unify communities, demonstrated by the following highlights:


Litter Abatement

Photo of California Governor, Gavin Newsom and Caltrans Director, Toks Omishakin removing litter from the side of a highway
Governor Gavin Newsom, left, has been a frequent participant in Clean California highway cleanups. Here he works with then-Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin, right, to pick up trash along an Interstate 80 offramp in Richmond as part of a Clean California event in May 2021.

The program is already making a major, positive impact. As of June, Caltrans has collected nearly 646,000 cubic yards of litter, or more than 10,800 tons, from the state highway system, enough trash to fill 197 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Clean California also has provided much-needed funding to buy 269 pieces of equipment to sustain safe litter collection efforts.

Clean California has also led to more than 700 new Adopt-A-Highway sections. Caltrans announced a $250 monthly incentive stipend in October 2021 funded by Clean California for qualifying litter clean-up events that has further promoted volunteerism by groups and people dedicated to keeping California’s roadsides clean.

Caltrans has also hosted 114 Dump Day Clean California events during the first 10 months of the program, collecting more than 34,600 cubic yards of litter, including 13,339 tires and more than 3,100 mattresses. Caltrans regional districts statewide continue to coordinate and plan additional events with the aim of holding monthly cleanup activities. Each of Caltrans’ 12 regional districts held Dump Day events as part of a statewide effort for Earth Day on April 23.

Figure: Collected nearly 646,000 cubic yards of litter from the State Highway System since July 1, 2021, equivalent to 10,868 tons. Amount of trash collected is enough to fill approximately 197 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Caltrans is evaluating technology to optimize data and decision-making processes, including a partnership with Google to use its Street View and artificial intelligence to enhance litter assessment accuracy, and pilot Adopt-A-Highway mobile applications to collect and analyze real-time data.

Figure: 546 people hired into Service Assistant Maintenance (SAM) positions for litter collection, with 26 people promoted to positions at Caltrans.

Job Creation

Caltrans has filled 546 litter collection maintenance positions. These entry-level jobs offer professional development and career opportunities for Californians, including people experiencing homelessness and the formerly incarcerated.

Clean California is partnering with the Butte County Office of Education (BCOE) to employ people overcoming barriers to work. The BCOE Back 2 Work Program is a transitional employment program for underserved and disadvantaged adults. Building on the success of this partnership, Caltrans significantly expanded the program in 2021, signing a $127 million contract with BCOE – funded by Clean California – to hire 82 additional Back 2 Work crews statewide. Each crew has an estimated 50 participants annually, providing more than 4,000 people with the opportunity to reintegrate back into the workforce. In addition to providing paying transitional employment, the program offers support services to help participants overcome employment barriers, get jobs, stay employed and build a better life.

Clean California Job Fairs


State Beautification Projects

Caltrans is launching more than 120 beautification and safety enhancement projects on the state highway system, investing $311 million  to transform areas blighted by trash and debris, including neighborhoods divided by highways. The community-driven projects will improve public spaces, incorporate artwork, add trees and other green elements, and reconnect underserved communities. Advertisement of projects for construction began in April 2022.

Photo showing a before and after beautifcation project. On the left, construction workers pour concrete. On the right, completed project with paving and planted trees and plants.
A problem area for years, the 28th Street Park area off State Route 110 in Los Angeles was recently converted to a parklet through cleanup and landscaping with community-developed art. Photo courtesy of District 7

Clean California Local Grant Program

Caltrans is funding nearly $300 million for 105 local projects throughout the state to beautify local streets, roads, parks and pathways. These projects will generate more than 3,600 jobs, with every project benefiting an underserved community.

Governor Newsom announced the recipients of the Clean California local grants on March 1. Following the drafting of guidelines and grant workshops, Caltrans received more than 300 applications totaling $758 million — more than double the available funding — which were scored by a team of 144 evaluators. The awarded projects were selected based on demonstrated community benefit and need. Gov. Newsom's California Blueprint proposes an additional $100 million to fund a second round of Clean California local grant projects.

Figure: Two Guideline Development Workshops held in September and October 2021 allowed for public engagement on application guideline development. 1,600 people attended, providing 700 comments.3 Application Workshops held between November 2021 and January 2022, providing technical assistance for grant applications with more than 1,600 attendees.

Public Education Campaign

Clean California includes $33 million for a three-year, multi-faceted public education campaign to raise public awareness about the negative impact of litter and encourage Californians to do their part to keep our state clean.

Source: Caltrans Clean California program