ST. LOUIS—A Missouri Department of Transportation program that has allowed the public to adopt a portion of state-managed roads and highways for cleanup will be phased out in 2026.

The program, which began in 1987, was paused last year after the state learned that the family of Kevin Johnson, who was executed for the 2005 murder of a Kirkwood police officer, had successfully applied for an “Adopt-A-Highway” sign in his honor.

It wasn’t the first time in the program’s 37-year history that it courted controversy. More than two decades ago, the KKK sued after MoDOT denied its application. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled against the state, citing Freedom of Speech.

ABC News reported in 2001 that the state ultimately kicked the KKK out of the program for not meeting its cleanup responsibilities.

In a presentation to the state highway and transportation commission last month on the decision to end the program, a MoDOT official said across the board for roughly “5,300 adopters” there was on average only a single trash pickup each year, when the agreements call for four.

“I knew that we put a lot of resources towards this program and I knew that we had a lot of adopters that were signing an agreement but not fulfilling their end of the bargain,” Chief Safety and Operations Officer Becky Allmeroth told the panel last month.

In addition, the program was underwater financially as it cost MoDOT $1.2 million to run a program that only saves the state $540,000 to pick up trash.

Allmeroth said the hazards that come with the task have changed over the years. She used to be part of a Boy Scout troop’s efforts fifteen years ago.

“The biggest hazards we had at the time might be a jug of something nasty that somebody threw out the window or occasionally we’d find an inappropriate magazine on the side of the road,” she said noting that later groups found mobile meth labs and a loaded gun. Today, the threat is distracted driving.

“I don’t sleep well knowing that we’ve got Boy Scout troops and different individuals and church groups that are putting themselves in that harm’s way as well for our benefit,” Allmeroth said. 

MoDOT will let current agreements age out in 2026, and will give memorial signs back to families. The public will still have a chance to pitch in as part of organized cleanup events coordinated by the agency.

A pilot program that allows businesses to sponsor highway cleanup work performed by a certified MoDOT vendor will continue, with companies paying between $500-$1,200 per month.