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More cars hit by debris on Seattle freeways with few solutions in sight

Four more vehicles were hit by rocks and debris thrown onto I-90 through Seattle. (Washington State Patrol, Twitter)

After another four vehicles were hit by debris thrown off I-90 in Seattle over the weekend, local officials are still searching for answers to what’s become an increasingly distressing safety hazard for drivers.

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According to the Washington State Patrol, there have been over 180 instances where vehicles driving along I-5 and I-90 in the Seattle area have been struck by debris since April. And while state patrol and the Washington State Department of Transportation have been trying to find ways to mitigate against this recent trend, it’s been a struggle.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got some people doing things that they shouldn’t be doing, and there’s only so much that we can do to prevent that,” WSDOT’s Bart Treece told KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show.

What WSDOT has been able to do is allow its traffic cameras to act “as an extra set of eyes” for law enforcement. Meanwhile, it’s also been working to trim back brush in areas next to freeways to reduce the ability of offenders to hide from police, and cleaning up areas where objects could potentially be thrown at vehicles.

But amid concerns that some of these crimes may be the fault of those grappling with homelessness and mental health issues, WSDOT’s resources and authority are relatively limited.

“We’re a transportation agency, not a social service agency,” Treece pointed out. “We don’t have the resources to connect the folks who are in need of housing, and mental health and other services — we rely on our local partners to do that.”

As for a suggestion he’s seen recently to install fencing along freeways as a potential solution, Treece describes logistical problems there as well.

“First of all, it may not solve the problem,” he noted. “If you have somebody who really wants to hurt somebody else, they’re going to find a way to do it.”

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“Some of the objects that have been thrown into traffic are about the size of a baseball, and they’re not very large — if someone really wanted to toss it into the roadway and do something dangerous, they could do that,” he clarified. “And we’re looking at not just one area. There are several spots that folks have been doing this; just in the area on I-90 between the Mount Baker Tunnel and the I-5 interchange, that’s about 2 miles of roadway. So where do you start fencing, where do you stop fencing, and will fencing actually solve the problem?”

Ultimately, it makes for what Treece describes as a “frustrating” situation for all involved, where coordination between multiple agencies is the best weapon they have to combat the issue.

On the law enforcement side, the Seattle Police Department and Washington State Patrol have been increasing patrols in areas where these crimes have been occurring frequently, while also relying on drivers to call 911 whenever they witness debris being thrown to help identify suspects.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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