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Targeting the taggers: Washington anti-graffiti bill signed into law

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(The Center Square) – Gov. Jay Inslee has signed into law a bill designed to address the spread of graffiti across Washington state.

House Bill 1989 will establish a pilot program designed to test innovative technologies and utilize Washington State Department of Transportation traffic cameras to deter and identify taggers.

During a January public hearing on the bill, prime sponsor Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, told fellow members of the House Transportation Committee he had received more public comments on the legislation than just about anything else he’s sponsored during his legislative career.

“People are really getting tired of graffiti on our roadways,” he said.

He told fellow lawmakers of a recent trip to Spokane for a ribbon-cutting ceremony of the new North-South Corridor, reminding committee members of the legislative requirement to add “public art” as part of transportation projects.

“I encourage you to see the new public art that is part of the project, and it would be such a shame if it’s covered in graffiti,” Barkis noted.

Ironically, while there, Barkis learned that graffiti taggers had already tarnished the new corridor and it had just been painted over for the ribbon cutting.

HB 1989 will utilize existing traffic cameras operated and monitored by WSDOT.

“I’m just asking that we use these cameras to find the perpetrators, and the bill instructs us to use all means to prosecute the perpetrators,” Barkis explained.

But a WSDOT officials testified “other” on the bill, raising concerns about staffing levels at Traffic Management Centers that monitor the cameras.

“DOT has already done extensive testing and research on various products in the marketplace and has implemented items such as anti-graffiti film and paint as well as utilizing sand blasting and power-washing,” said WSDOT Intelligent Transportation Systems operations engineer Tony Leingang. “Currently, DOT does notify law enforcement if graffiti is caught on camera and traffic management centers cooperate with legal action against the offender.”

He said TMC staff are spread thin already in coordinating with state patrol regarding crashes and wrong-way drivers, and the department lacks staff to monitor all cameras.

Barkis pushed back on the suggestion DOT is already utilizing products to deter graffiti.

Leingang said he would follow up on that as it was not his area of expertise.

Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn, asked, “Is it DOT’s policy that if they do happen upon one of these, a crime happening with somebody painting one of our pieces of infrastructure, do they call WSP, is that DOT’s policy?”

“Yes,” said Leingang. “That’s already our policy, if we notice it or it gets called in to us we notify WSP immediately, and if there’s an ability to push the record button at that moment, I’m sure we would do that.”

He explained that at this point that WSDOT only keeps about 72 hours of video before it is taped over.

As signed into law, the legislation includes:

Field testing of state-of-the-art spray drone technology to cover up existing graffiti, ensuring prompt restoration of affected areas.Utilization of WSDOT-owned cameras to deter and identify perpetrators. Tolling and work safety zone enforcement cameras will not be utilized.Prioritization of the Interstate 5 Puget Sound region from Tacoma to Seattle and the north Spokane corridor for the deployment of innovative graffiti prevention techniques.

The bill requires WSDOT to submit a report to the Legislature by Dec. 1, detailing the program’s progress, including funding allocation, the effectiveness of identification methods, and the results of spray drone testing.

The pilot program will conclude on July 1, 2025.

WSDOT emailed a statement to The Center Square about the pilot program: “WSDOT is in the preliminary phase of identifying and researching possible solutions to implement House Bill 1989. Safety is paramount to everything we do at WSDOT. Graffiti has been a growing concern for our agency over the years – damaging state property and putting both the people who participate in the activity and our crews who remove it at risk.

“One aspect of the pilot program is to research potential solutions for upgrading the state’s existing traffic camera infrastructure in the pilot program locations and WSDOT will investigate upgrading traffic cameras to be more suitable for analyzing video and associated software.”