Drones to Battle Graffiti on Washington State Highways

Innovative technology could mark a new chapter in Washington’s fight against graffiti.

April 2, 2024

According to the Washington State Standard, a novel approach involving aerial drones is poised to transform how graffiti is managed along the state’s highways. This initiative comes in the wake of legislation passed by the state’s lawmakers, who have earmarked US$1 million for a Department of Transportation pilot program aimed at pioneering new methods for removing graffiti. The program, approved with overwhelming support, seeks to clean spray paint from road infrastructure including signs, walls, and bridges.

Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, sponsored the bill, motivated by the escalating graffiti vandalism observed during his travels across Washington’s highways. “[T]he graffiti on all of the beautiful work we’ve been doing is getting out of control,” Barkis remarked, highlighting the urgent need for innovative solutions. The state’s expenditure on graffiti removal has surged, with a record $1.4 million spent in the last two-year budget cycle alone, underscoring the growing severity of the issue.

Graffiti has not only marred accessible areas but also targeted more challenging locations, such as overhead signs on Interstate 5. The financial strain of these acts of vandalism, coupled with budgetary constraints, has made it difficult for the Department of Transportation to address graffiti promptly, often prioritizing other critical maintenance tasks.

The drone-based graffiti removal pilot is scheduled to start in June, focusing on the Interstate 5 Puget Sound area and the north Spokane corridor. While the original bill suggested using tolling and work zone cameras to identify vandals, the finalized program encourages exploring various strategies without mandating camera usage. Additionally, the Department of Transportation is considering creating designated public spaces for graffiti artists, potentially curbing illegal graffiti.

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