Along the westbound portion of Highway 90 near the parish line between St. Charles and Jefferson, prisoners from the Nelson Coleman Correctional Center pick up roadside trash.
"We are out here every day," said one of the inmates.
The men, who wear black and white striped jump suits, carry black garbage bags in one hand and grabbing sticks in the other as they pick up litter one grab at a time. Their movement is slow as they make progress away from the Jefferson Parish line and the River Birch dump further into St. Charles Parish. All along the roadway from the dump into Luling, trash is strewn about and even one fully sealed trash bag is on the highway’s shoulder.
"Right here is a pretty active spot, also along Highway 3127," the deputy in charge of the inmate trash details said. "I’d expect it’s from the dump trucks."
Most of the litter escaped from dump trucks traveling through the parish on their way into and out of the River Birch landfill. The garbage dump, currently being investigated by the federal government for illegal activity, is one of the largest in the state and draws dump trucks from all over southeast Louisiana.
Councilman Shelley Tastet said he recently saw just how dangerous that trash can be when his wife’s car was damaged by debris that fell out of a dump truck.
"We had a dump truck in front of us and rocks hit her windshield and about five minutes down the road that sucker cracked right across," Tastet said.
The area of Highway 90 that has the most litter is in Tastet’s district, which includes Luling and Ama.
"A lot of times I’ll call the Sheriff’s Office and they’ll come and pick up the trash. They’ve done a great job out on Highway 90," Tastet said. "We got that thing that it is against the law to litter, but it is hard to ticket them on that."
In addition to the debris, Tastet said the roadway is being worn unevenly due to the traffic.
"When they are going east, the east side of that road is damaged because of all the load it takes," Tastet said. "When you are going back west it’s fine because it is all empty trucks. It’s much different on each side."
Despite the litter problem and road wear issues, Tastet said he is more worried about the traffic itself.
"It’s as bad as can be. The suckers speed all the time and run red lights and everything else," Tastet said. "They get paid by the load so they don’t care. They can pay for a ticket – a couple of loads and they can pay for that speeding ticket."
Capt. Pat Yoes, public information officer with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, said they often patrol the area near River Birch for commercial traffic.
"We continue to enforce traffic violations involving vehicles in this congested portion of Highway 90," Yoes said. "Given the activity of commercial vehicles operating in that area, they do make up a significant number of our efforts."
The Sheriff’s Office is active in writing tickets for the commercial vehicles traveling through the parish although they do not have the exact numbers on how many citations they have written.
"Over the past six months there were 93 traffic stops for dump trucks," Yoes said. "Each stop likely resulted in at least one citation."
Tastet said the dump trucks will eventually cause a major problem, such as a fatal wreck.
"You can do only so much. Right now they got the cops on it," he said.
Tastet has been trying to get a flashing light installed in front of Willowdale Boulevard to slow the dump truck traffic down.
"If you get up early in the morning like I do, I’ve caught dump trucks running through that Willowdale Boulevard light," he said. "I went to DOTD four or five times trying to get a flashing light coming out of Highway 90 from the east warning them after they come out of this curve to slow down."
Tastet said the problem is that the light in the area comes less than half a mile after a curve, which does not give trucks a chance to slow down for the stop light.
"I’ve seen a couple of dump trucks out there in accidents, but nothing too serious. The thing is it only takes one time to kill three or four kids in those cars going through," Tastet said. "That’s what it is going to take to get the signals that way. It will take two or three accidents before you can get anything done."
In the meantime, the councilman said he sometimes tries to take matters into his own hands.
"I’ll blow the horn and do anything I can, but they run. There is no stopping those trucks," Tastet said.