Published January 27, 2021
Hamilton County, TN – While Chattanoogans are mortified by the appearance of the “Scenic City’s” interstates compared to neighboring Cleveland, getting an answer as to why state and local governments are failing at trash pick-up responsibilities is very difficult.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is responsible for litter pick-up along the interstate, yet, they have contracted with Hamilton County to do the work in their stead.
“The Department contracts and pays Hamilton County to do litter removal on the interstates and major state routes in the county,” TDOT states.
However is December, Chattanooga City Engineer William Payne stated, “Any time we receive a complaint of anything that is on the state route that is beyond our ability or beyond the terms of the maintenance contract that we have with the State, then we do refer those items over to TDOT.”
At the time, it was discovered that the City was only responsible for roads within the City that are not State routes.
Most citizens do believe litter pickup along the interstate in Hamilton County is the county’s responsibilty but with limited resources during Covid, they are struggling to just keep up with the accumulation of trash just within the confines of cities and towns.
Payne said that “there have been fewer people assigned for community service by the court system so that has decreased the availability of those crews.”
Our state representatives and senators firmly place responsibilty in the hands of TDOT, but TDOT has passed the buck onto Hamilton County.
Despite our inquiries, Hamilton County Officials have yet to release a statement.
We reached out to our area’s State Representatives and State Senators to see where they stand on the issue of litter along the interstate and what, if anything, they intend to do about holding responsible parties accountable for results.
Unfortunately, the only information they had to offer was a statement from TDOT.
District 30 Tennessee House Representative Esther Helton forwarded TDOT’s statement to us and gave us a call to further explain the situation.
TDOT’s statement said, “It is not unusual for TDOT to get an increase in complaints about trash and litter in the Chattanooga area during the winter months of the year.”
“The lack of leaves and other greenery makes the accumulated litter on the sides of the road more pronounced, and with the addition of inclement weather there are fewer days available for personnel to do this type of work,” TDOT said, “The restrictions and concerns involved with the COVID pandemic have really exacerbated this problem even more…”
“They use labor from the various Hamilton County detention facilities (jail, workhouse) and individuals sentenced to perform public service to accomplish this work. It is a very good arrangement that has been in place for many years.”
Hamilton County resident, Kathy Cisco Finkley said, “I think Chattanooga looks like a ghetto. It’s horrible. There have been plenty of nice days to pick this litter up and CoVid is no excuse. We pay enough taxes and they could allow those incarcerated for nonviolent crimes to pick up the garbage.”
According to TDOT, “There are various rules and regulations already limiting when and how these individuals can work, but when you add in the further restrictions for COVID, it has been almost impossible for the County to safely amass and transport these people to accomplish any kind of satisfactory work.”
“They have tried but there is a big difference in what can be completed by a 15-person van load of people versus meeting COVID restrictions and only having 2 or 3,” TDOT says.
TDOT stated that they are having challenges accomplishing daily work while still keeping their staff safe at this time. They have begun supplementing Hamilton County’s work with the use of our own personnel.
However, there are several other roadway maintenance items that TDOT normally does during the winter months, so their contribution to resolving this matter is limited.
TDOT states that they can only hope that as this new year moves forward, improvements in reducing the spread of COVID will allow everyone to get back to normal.
Regarding the use of paid crews to collect the litter, Chattanooga City Attorney Phil Noblett said , “It costs the taxpayers a whole lot of money in the long run to be able to have people that are hired to be able to go up and remove those items that are out there.”
This is a developing story. The Tennessee Conservative will post updates as they become available.