Graffiti on Washington’s highways – Big problem, little resources

Graffiti along I-5 between North 85th Street & Northeast 92nd Street in Seattle

 Every week, vandals armed with cans of spray-paint make their mark on walls, columns, and signs along I-5. And every week our maintenance crew goes out to paint over the mess.

Graffiti removal underneath I-5 at Columbia Way exit ramp.
You can see the vandalism pretty consistently along I-5 through Seattle - on the walls along the roadway, on the overpasses, and even on the freeway signs. Usually it slows down when the weather turns wet in the fall, but with the mild winter we’ve had, the frequency of graffiti has increased. Our crews have seen a lot more graffiti this fall/winter, and in locations that are more challenging to clean up.

Vandals are getting creative with their tactics, hitting hard-to-reach areas that require additional resources like high-lift bucket trucks and lane closures for our crews to get in there to get it cleaned up. The Mercer Street tunnel in Seattle is a prime example. The tunnel is lined with tile and is one of the favorite “hot spots” for vandals. Access to the Mercer Street tunnel to clean up graffiti is very challenging, as we have to close lanes overnight to get in there. And because the graffiti is so visible, drivers who use that exit daily get frustrated as to why it takes so long to get it cleaned it up.

Even electronic message signs are being targeted. The speed limit signs on SR 520 near Lake Washington Boulevard have been vandalized twice, requiring replacement of the signs. Our crews had to work overnight, using high-lift bucket trucks and closing lanes to get the work done. This is not only very time-consuming and costly, but is also a frustration to drivers on the roadway that are delayed due to the work required to clean up after vandals. We recently installed a chain link fence along the overpass to keep vandals from getting to the signs.

Graffiti removal for just our Seattle office (which covers the Canadian border to the King/Pierce county line) costs between $120,000 and $145,000 annually. We’d rather spend that money on patching potholes and fixing roads. We could put another full-time maintenance employee and truck on the road for what it costs for graffiti removal.

Graffiti underneath the carpool on- ramp from
southbound I-405 to westbound I-90.
Our crews are working hard out there trying to remove graffiti and prevent more of it. We use fencing in target areas to block access, install additional lighting where possible, and even use motion sensitive sprinklers. It is a never ending battle of who will get there first (or last) and with limited resources, the vandals are ahead in winning this war.

Report graffiti in the greater Seattle area.