Three new portable outdoor vacuums are helping Colorado Springs Public Works crews clean up the city more efficiently and effectively, part of an ongoing initiative to clear trash bags, aluminum soda cans, cardboard and other litter from medians and gutters.
"I think it's going to make a big difference," Mayor John Suthers said Wednesday morning. Behind him, crews used a vacuum truck to clean up litter along the curbs and gutters of Las Vegas Street west of Tejon Street near downtown.
Colorado Springs purchased three portable vacuums as part of its $2.7 million "Keep It Clean COS" campaign launched last spring to remove garbage across the city, Suthers said.
In 2022 officials received more than 1,200 complaints about litter, city spokesman Max D'Onofrio said.
Public Works Director Travis Easton and other officials said Public Works crews are using the vacuums across the city but will focus on cleaning up about 150 to 155 centerline miles of road primarily along highly-traveled corridors like Academy Boulevard, Austin Bluffs Parkway, Garden of the Gods Road, Nevada Avenue and Woodmen Road.
A centerline mile measures the road's length down the center, regardless of the number of lanes.
Residents can report areas with litter through the city's GoCOS! mobile app, D'Onofrio said.
Colorado Springs Public Works employees use a new vacuum to clean up litter and debris along Las Vegas Street west of Tejon. The city purchased the vacuums as part of a $2.7 million Keep It Clean COS campaign launched last spring to clean up the city. @csgazette pic.twitter.com/t2NCITu5RD— Breeanna Jent (@breejentnews) January 11, 2023
Each vacuum cost about $24,000, Easton said, but can do the equivalent work of between five and seven Public Works employees as the city catches up on cleanup that had historically taken a back seat to road maintenance.
"It's a lot cheaper to buy one of those (vacuums) than to hire five to seven people. ... We're looking to ... leverage those dollars for the citizens," Easton said.
Funding for the cleanup program came from the city's healthy reserves. At the end of the campaign's first 18 months, the city expects to set aside $800,000 on an ongoing basis for staff, Suthers previously said.
The city has hired about seven full-time employees for its cleanup efforts and plans to hire about four more, Suthers said. The cleanup team will have about 20 to 25 full- and part-time employees once it is complete, he said.
Easton and Suthers said the city hopes to work with local human services partners, such as Springs Rescue Mission, to hire their clients to operate the vacuums and perform cleanup.
The city already hires employees through its Work COS program, a partnership between the city and local homeless services nonprofits, to complete median maintenance projects funded by the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, according to a 2020 city news release announcing the program.
Since Work COS launched nearly three years ago, Springs Rescue Mission has referred more than a dozen of its guests for the program, some of whom are now employed with the city full-time, said Springs Rescue Mission representative Cameron Moix.
Business owners said Wednesday they support the city's cleanup efforts.
"I think it's great just in general," said Ashley Coffey, who owns the NEXUS gym on South Tejon Street near downtown.
Coffey said she has a good relationship with homeless people who live nearby and the area remains fairly clean most of the time, but trash and other debris tends to collect around her business when the weather is windy or behind her gym where some people set up homeless camps.
She said she supports the city's desire to expand its Work COS campaign and provide more job opportunities to homeless people.
"I love those efforts. It gets people working and hopefully sheltered," she said.
As part of the Keep It Clean COS effort, the city took over the care of some medians in town on corridors like Powers Boulevard and U.S. Highway 24, both highways and the responsibility of the Colorado Department of Transportation.
On roadways like Interstate 25, the state Department of Transportation uses varied methods to clean up garbage that can spill out from the back of traveling vehicles or from trash containers that aren't covered well enough, said Brad Bauer, a deputy maintenance superintendent for CDOT's southeast region.
CDOT cleans up local roads through its Adopt-a-Highway program, where businesses can pay to have a contractor pick up trash, and utilizing the Center for Employment Opportunities program that offers job opportunities for people coming out of incarceration, he said. Participants clean up trash and chop down weeds, among other duties.
Lastly, CDOT crews pick up trash along local highways almost daily, he said.
Last year CDOT spent $1.45 million on trash and debris cleanup in the southeast region, Bauer said.