How I Adopted A Highway in New Mexico with My Friend

Step 1: The Idea:

My friend Andrew and I are really good friends and like to do ridiculous things together. In 2012, we took a trip to the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

In 2013 we went on a road trip across the Southwest and met Governors Mike Beebe of Arkansas and Jan Brewer of Arizona in their respective state capitols.

In 2014, we had our own float in the St. Louis Mardi Gras Parade.

In 2015, we summitted Mount Shasta, a 14,100 ft tall glacier-covered volcano in northern California.

In January 2017, Andrew was driving to Death Valley with his girlfriend and noticed all the Sponsor A Highway Signs, which were paid for my corporations. He stipulated that if he sponsored a highway under the “Andrew Hess Highway” corporation, he could conceivably name a road the Andrew Hess Highway.

He then approached me with the idea. We figured we could pick a road somewhere in between our homes in Los Angeles and Oakland and name it the Bryce Caster/Andrew Hess Friendship Highway.

 

Step 2: Contacting California

Excited, I called up CalTrans, the entity of the State Government that runs the Adopt A Highway program. The lady explained that there are two ways to get your name on a road: Adopting and Sponsoring a highway. Adopting a Highway requires you to pick up the trash on the road. Sponsoring a Highway involves you paying people to clean the road for you.

In California, Adopting A Highway requires a 5 year commitment. Depending on the type of road, volunteers must clean the road between 12 and 24 times. That would be way too much effort for a sign. Sponsoring the road would involve hiring a contractor and would cost $8,000 over the 5 years. While we could probably crowdfund $1,000 for the sign, $8,000 was too much. Therefore both options appeared to be unreasonable.

Step 3: Thinking Outside the Box (State)

Disappointed, I told Andrew we should look at other states, figuring other places had lower environmental standards. Together we created a spreadsheet of all 50 states. We had 4 categories to judge a state’s Adopt A Highway program:

  1. Number of cleans per year.
  2. Number of years in contract
  3. Difficulty to Get to From LA and San Francisco
  4. Coolness of Sign

Most states required 4 cleans/year. However, New Mexico only required 2 cleans/year, the least of any state (Oregon allowed you to do only two cleans/year if you agree to also remove noxious weeds).

New Mexico also only required a two year commitment and was easily accessible on direct flights from both LA and the SF Bay Area. Unfortunately, the signs got only a 1/10 on the coolness scale (Indiana, Florida and Idaho scored high). Still, only having to go twice a year (a total of 4 trips) trumped everything else. New Mexico it was!

Step 4: Dealing with NMDOT

New Mexico’s Department of Transportation has 6 districts and each district actually runs its own Adopt-A-Highway program. We decided to adopt our highway in District 3, which contains Albuquerque and most importantly the Albuquerque International Sunport (the airport).

I filled out an official application and hold harmless forms and had them notarized. Per the State’s instructions, I left the road segment blank although they were suggesting the section of Interstate 25 in between the Sunport and Downtown.

AAH A1284 Form

AAH A1284 hold harmless agreement

About a month later, I received a call from the State. They asked how I was going to clean the road when I lived in California. I said that we had a local sponsor and would email them their contact info. Now I had to scramble to find a local New Mexican to get on board.

I called my friend Kate, who is from Albuquerque. She suggested her father Randy would be interested in helping. I then spoke to Randy who not only agreed to be our local sponsor, but also agreed to help us clean the road.

Randy then suggested that we pick a segment of highway more scenic and safer to clean than the Interstate. After doing some snooping on Google Maps Street View, I noticed that a section of Tramway Road (New Mexico State Highway 556) was available. This particular section was right next to the entrance to the Sandia Peak Tramway, a cable car and major tourist attraction in the Albuquerque area. In theory, every visitor to the tramway should be able to see our sign.

Step 5: Success and Sorting Out Details

On July 24th, I received an email from the State informing me that my application was approved and that the sign was going to be installed sometime in the next 30 days.

The sign would eventually read “B CASTER-A HESS FRIENDSHIP”.  The word “HIGHWAY” was deemed not acceptable, as only the New Mexico Legislature has the power to name state highways.

The sign in all its glory!

Finally in late October, I received an email confirming that the sign was installed. Randy drove over and sent me a picture of the sign.

Andrew and I decided to clean the road on a Saturday in mid-November.

The State requested that we show up that Wednesday to pick up supplies. Luckily, Randy was able to pick them up for us.

 

Step 6: The Cleaning Trip

Andrew (accompanied by his girlfriend Shelby) and I flew out to Albuquerque from our respective cities. The flight took about 90 minutes. We rented the car and settled into a cheap motel about 10 minutes from the airport.

The next morning we drove over to our stretch of road and parked next to the CoolLOOP Ice Arena. The sign was indeed up!

There, we met up with Randy, who had all the supplies: work vests and trash bags from the State plus extra work gloves from his house.

Cleaning up the highway.

We donned our vests and got to work. Since we had to clean both sides of the road, we decided to walk as a group down the east side of the street and back on the west side of the street.

The Dream Team: Shelby, Randy, Andrew, Bryce

The whole ordeal took about 3 hours including stopping to take pictures. Here are some takeaways from the experience:

  1. The locals were very appreciative of our work. Numerous people- mostly bikers and joggers- stopped to thank us for beautifying their community.
  2. Our road had a median for about half of the stretch, which added at least 30 minutes to our pickup time.
  3. Cigarettes represented 90% of all the trash collected. We picked up at least 500 cigarette butts- possibly over 1,000. Cigarettes were found all along the road, but had the largest concentration around the two stoplights.
  4. Cigarette butts take between 18 months-10 years to decompose. Hopefully, most of the cigarette butts recovered were old and that the next clean will go faster.
  5. Besides cigarettes, we saw a few beer cans, a phone book and a sock.
  6. The trash bags provided by the State were not sturdy enough and kept breaking. I would recommend bringing your own trash bags.
  7. Next time, we are going to bring water and pokers to pick up the trash.
We did it!!

At the end of our clean, we dropped all the bags off at the north signpost. That Monday, I called the State to have the bags picked up. Two weeks later, I got an email confirming our clean. Now, the only thing to do is wait until springtime until we have to go back!

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