RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Trash along the side of the highway is more than just an eyesore. The North Carolina Department of Transportation said littering is a serious and costly problem.

CBS 17 viewer Lisa Vanderberry reached out to CBS 17 with concerns over a pile of trash at the I-440 off-ramp near Crabtree Valley Mall.

She said on her commute along I-440 from Capital Boulevard to Crabtree Valley Mall she sees fast food bags and lots of plastic bottles. Vanderberry has called Raleigh home her whole life, and said she wants the city she loves to make a good impression.

“Now that more people are coming in to the area, I think it needs to be presented in the beauty that it is,” Vanderberry said. “When it’s getting trashed, and people aren’t taking care of the place they live in, it hurts my heart.” 

Last year, NCDOT collected nearly 1.9 million pounds of litter along highways in Wake, Durham and nearby counties, and spent more than $2.2 million on litter management in the area.

Statewide, the department spent more than $19 million on litter management last year, that includes litter cleanup by contractors, state forces and work related to Adopt-A-Highway, Litter Sweep and Swat-A-Litterbug, according to a spokesperson with NCDOT.

The Sponsor-A-Highway program relies on contractors that negotiate with private entities to clean up litter. NCDOT said it comes at no cost to the department.

“Millions of dollars are spent each year by the NCDOT on litter management, funds that could be used to fix potholes, build bridges and improve our transportation system,” NCDOT said on its website.

Vanderberry agrees.

“It’s sad that they have to spend resources cleaning up after other people,” Vanderberry said.

If you’re caught littering you could be fined up to $1,000 the first time around, CBS 17 learned.

NCDOT also has the Swat-a-Litterbug program where you can report someone for littering by calling 1-800-331-5864 or filling out this online form with the vehicle license plate. Drivers cannot be punished through the program.

“I was not aware of the program until you mentioned it,” Vanderberry said. “I do think it’s a great program, but I wonder how impactful it is for someone to get a letter that they’re just gonna throw in the trash. Is it really gonna make a difference?” Vanderberry said.

NCDOT said it has mailed out more than 2,500 letters so far this year, urging drivers to stop littering.

The system does not track repeat offenders. The letters are part of a larger anti-littering effort.

The department said the anti-littering program costs less than $15,000 annually, including printing materials, mail expenses, staff, and overhead.

Kenya Shuler has lived in Raleigh for two decades and said she’s never seen the litter this bad.

“We’re just better than that, I don’t know what gives, it downgrades where we live to me, it makes it look like something that it’s not,” Shuler said.

NCDOT said the litter levels don’t fluctuate much. A spokesperson for the department said it believes intentional littering decreases when roads are clean, but there’s no research data to back that up.

According to an NCDOT report, State Highway Patrol issued more than 400 citations for littering last year.