The Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has launched a spray drone program to combat highway graffiti.

Maintenance technicians in Tacoma and at WSDOT HQ in Olympia are hard at work troubleshooting the drone, which comes equipped with graffiti-fighting capabilities.

If everything goes to plan, defaced surfaces all along I-705 will soon be staring down the drone's imposing nozzle. At present there are no plans for a statewide rollout.

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This latest beautification campaign is highly imaginative, if slightly surreal. The idea was first raised by Mike Gauger, a regional WSDOT superintendent from whom we are awaiting comment.

The drone requires a human operator, but only for proper positioning. Otherwise this technology is self-sufficient. It can reach obscure cracks and crevices, as well as bridges, overpasses and so forth. This would be difficult, if not wholly unfeasible, with a conventional human cleanup crew.

Graffiti does perhaps have artistic merit; Manfred Kirchheimer's 1981 documentary on the subject, Stations of the Elevated, is downright painterly. But in the eyes of transit authorities, graffiti is a persistent and sometimes provocative (i.e. gang-related) blight on Washington expressways.

More than that, graffiti impedes the "dignity of our public infrastructure," says State Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-Olympia). The Barkis-sponsored House Bill 1800 stiffens penalties for graffiti practitioners, commonly nicknamed "taggers."

HB 1800 was signed into law in March and takes effect on June 6. Existing laws do not look favorably on graffiti, which in this state constitutes "malicious mischief" - a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.

WSDOT has spent over $1M in recent years on graffiti erasure. The department secured an additional $1M for research into anti-graffiti traffic cam technology.

Graffiti: Vandalism or Art?

Street art pieces around casper

Gallery Credit: Raedyn Vidal, Townsquare Media

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