Art or vandalism? WSDOT spends $1.4M on graffiti removal over past 2 years

TACOMA, Wash. — Some people consider graffiti to be art, while others call it vandalism.

No matter what your stance is, tagging is illegal in Washington, as well as being costly and even dangerous, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

How can tagging be dangerous? For instance, two overhead signs on the off-ramp from southbound Interstate 5 in Tacoma to State Route 512 were tagged last month. The directions on the sign were covered by graffiti and caused a significant distraction for drivers, so they had to be removed immediately.

WSDOT also pointed out that those who tagged the signs — which have been targeted repeatedly —had to crawl across a catwalk, directly over a busy section of I-5, to make their mark.

Because the graffiti nearly covered both signs, they had to be replaced. The catwalk was also removed from the sign structure to prevent the new signs from being defaced again.

Not only does the replacement of overhead signs take crews away from important maintenance jobs, but replacing the signs is costly.

“Our team is still calculating the final bill, but replacing both signs is estimated to be between $40,000 and $50,000. That includes labor, equipment and materials,” WSDOT said on its blog.

WSDOT said graffiti removal projects come out of its maintenance and operations budget, and over the past two years, crews have spent $1.4 million removing graffiti. That budget is the same one used for removing snow and ice, repairing bridges, fixing pavement and other important work.

Of course, not everything that’s tagged must be replaced. Crews are often able to paint over graffiti but regularly report that areas are tagged again days or even hours later.

WSDOT said the cost of graffiti removal is expected to rise, as tagging has increased along state roads over the past few years. Newly completed bridges, overpasses, walls, and other structures are often targeted as an appealing blank canvas for taggers.

Learn more about how graffiti removal is prioritized at this link.