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Riding the I-40 landfill 

I look at myself as a seasoned traveler and I'm not alone in having driven more highway miles than I care to admit. With the exception of those I used after witnessing the aftermath of a tornado in Mississippi and the carnage of an overturned chicken truck near Pittsboro, I am hard pressed to come up with the right words to describe the condition of our state's roads--particularly Interstate 40 in the Research Triangle.

There's a river of garbage flowing from Durham to Raleigh and back again, fed by a constant stream of cups, bottles, bags and other household and industrial refuge thrown or blown from cars and trucks.

What will archeologists conclude about our society when these items are unearthed a thousand or so years from now? The excavation of RTP will most assuredly lead researchers to believe that a gluttonous and wasteful civilization once roamed this part of the country.

How can we put an end to the total disregard for highway cleanliness? Volunteers could be solicited to do the clean-up or at least, to jot down the license numbers of anyone who continues to litter. But there are probably some right-to-privacy issues involved. We could wait for a stiff breeze and hope our problem blows into the next county, but there's no guarantee it would blow in the right direction. As far as penalties, I don't think we could get much support for drawing and quartering (although such events could go a long way toward reducing the state's money woes if admission was charged or Pay Per View rights were sold). Current penalties certainly haven't been a deterrent. Can you remember ever hearing of someone paying a fine for littering? Have you ever seen a list of names of litterbugs published in the newspaper?

No one seems to take littering seriously anymore. It's become as socially acceptable as really baggy pants and Britney Spears. I guess in the greater scheme of things it doesn't matter anyway. Most ideas on this subject are viewed like the pieces of paper used to store them--just more garbage. As long as we have roads, there will be cars. As long as there are cars, there will be litter.

Hey, maybe Detroit or Japan can come up with an anti-litter device that would be standard equipment on every car starting in the year 2025. What am I thinking? No doubt, some lobbyist would find a way to have the device delayed until the end of the century, and by then, our roads will be a landfill.

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