Drones will be used to combat graffiti after Inslee signed new bill

Mar 21, 2024, 2:03 PM

drones graffiti...

Graffiti in Seattle (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

State transportation officials have been authorized to use drones to address graffiti vandalism after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1989 into law.

HB 1989, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, originally passed in the Washington House of Representatives on a 96-1 vote.

With the passage of the bill, a pilot program will now allow the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to operate “spray drone technology” to cover up existing graffiti.

Dave Ross on graffiti: This level of graffiti is like defacing the Great Pyramid

“Two guys can sit in the truck, operate the drone and paint over it so they can keep after this quicker and get it covered faster and less expensive,” Barkis told KIRO Newsradio.

“The explosion of graffiti in our state has become a serious concern that demands an immediate and comprehensive response,” Barkis said in a prepared statement. “This bill acknowledges the frustration Washingtonians feel about graffiti on our roadways and sends a clear message that enough is enough. We cannot continue allowing the actions of a few to shape the narrative of our communities.”

The law will also empower WSDOT to utilize its cameras — excluding those dedicated to tolling and work safety zone enforcement — to identify individuals responsible for graffiti damage.

WSDOT will first focus on graffiti around Interstate 5 from Tacoma to Seattle, and then the north Spokane corridor of the highway.

“We’re spending over a million a year to deal with this and it doesn’t seem like we’re dealing with it at all,” Barkis said. “So if we can find cost measures to do it more effectively and get it done, I’d love to see it.”

More on graffiti in Seattle: Graffiti crimes can once again be prosecuted in Seattle, court rules

In a March 2023 blog post from WSDOT, the department cited it spent $1.4 million over a two-year span on graffiti removal.

“Replacing signs – particularly overhead ones – is a timely and expensive task,” WSDOT wrote. “In this case, the graffiti defaced the entirety of the directional signs, and they were not able to be salvaged. How much does something like this cost? 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.”

The bill will prosecute graffiti as a misdemeanor.

Frank Sumrall is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here and you can email him here.

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