Highway litterbugs wind up costing the Missouri Department of Transportation — and by extension, all drivers — a cool $5 million a year to cover trash cleanup.

That’s $5 million annually that won’t go to patching a pothole or building a new bridge.

“Litter is really a problem,” said Ed Hassinger, MoDOT’s district engineer in St. Louis. “We really just don’t need to spend as much time doing that as we do. It would be much better to spend that doing other things.”

So for roughly the 10th year, the Missouri departments of transportation and conservation teamed up Friday to kick off this year’s No MOre Trash! Bash — a month-long event.

Community leaders and volunteers spent part of the morning picking up trash along Interstate 70 near Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

The Department of Conservation spends about $1 million a year to pick up litter in the state’s forests, conservation areas, and river access, said Dan Zarlenga, a department spokesman.

Conservation agents write “hundreds of tickets” every year to people caught littering, he said.

He said a grocery store plastic bag takes 20 years to decompose, while a plastic beverage bottle takes 100 years and an aluminum can takes 500 years to decompose.

MoDOT officials say they pick up 157,000 bags of trash across the state in the month of April.

So the state is looking for more volunteers to help pick up roadside trash. Adopt-A-Highway effort offsets about $1 million in litter pickup costs.

But just as important, MoDOT officials implored drivers not to litter in the first place.

“If we can save five million dollars for MoDOT from spending on trash ... when we have road projects putting people back to work, that’s what we ought to be doing,” said St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley.

People wanting to find out more about the effort can go to nomoretrash.org.

FARE INCREASE MEETINGS

Metro will begin meeting with the public beginning on Monday, April 16, to go over proposed fare increases that are expected to take effect later this year.

Metro wants the public to weigh in on three options to raise fares through a combination of higher costs of passes and/or base fares.

Transit riders can attend any of four meetings that have been scheduled across the region.

The meeting dates and locations include:

Monday, April 16 — First-floor rotunda of East St. Louis City Hall, 301 River Park Drive, East St. Louis. Meeting time will be 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Wednesday, April 18 — First-floor rotunda of St. Louis City Hall, 1200 Market Street, St. Louis. Meeting time will be 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Wednesday, April 18 — Second floor of the St. Louis County Government Center, 41 South Central, Clayton. Meeting time will be 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Thursday, April 19 — Board room at Metro Headquarters, 707 North First Street, St. Louis. Meeting time will be from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Q. Is it possible to take another look at the merge configuration from westbound Highway 40 onto northbound Interstate 270? I travel this every day and see a lot of close calls as drivers try to navigate various cross purposes. First, you have the Highway 40 merge onto a lane that ends, with the next closest lane being an “exit only” to Ladue Road, necessitating a two-lane crossover if you want to proceed northbound on I-270. While you’re managing that, you have to avoid drivers merging on your left from another entrance, either onto northbound I-270 or trying to exit at Ladue. Then you also have to maneuver with drivers already headed northbound on I-270 who want to exit at Ladue.

— Susan

This really boils down to a simple question of space. MoDOT spokeswoman Kara Price said there isn’t really enough room on northbound I-270 to give traffic from both eastbound and westbound Highway 40 their own lanes to continue on I-270. That means those lanes have to terminate somewhere.

“No motorist likes a merge, but there really isn’t a better solution,” Price told Ride.

Here, there is pavement to continue one lane to Ladue, but that is it, she said, and the outside lane has to merge as a result.

Q. It has been years since MoDOT worked on Highway 40 and used this grassy area on the side of the ramp to from westbound 40 to southbound Highway 141 to store road building equipment. Now it is an ugly eyesore of West County. Any plans to reclaim the area as just grass and or flowers?

— Pam Hager, Chesterfield

That area provides MoDOT a staging area for the Route 141 extension project. Once that work is completed later this year, this area will be graded and returned to a grassy open space, said MoDOT spokeswoman Kara Price.

Ken Leiser covers transportation and aviation for the Post-Dispatch. He blogs on Along for the Ride. On Twitter, follow him @kenleiser and the Business section @postdispatchbiz.

Ken Leiser is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.