Washington works to stop the theft of mile 420 mark­ers

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - NEWS - BY JU­LIA JA­COBS NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SER­VICE

The Washington State De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion has a prob­lem that just won’t go away.

For years, peo­ple have per­sis­tently stolen those green-and-white mile mark­ers posted along the high­way. The most pop­u­lar signs to pil­fer are Mile 420, a pop­u­lar num­ber among mar­i­juana en­thu­si­asts, and Mile, ahem, 69. (If you don’t know that one by now, we can’t help you.)

“They will typ­i­cally go and take those more than any­thing,” said Trevor McCain, who spe­cial­izes in driver in­for­ma­tion signs at the Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment. “They have spe­cial mean­ings to some peo­ple.”

So the sign afi­ciona­dos in Washington had to get cre­ative. In hot spots for sign theft, they’ve sim­ply moved the high­way marker back one-tenth of a mile and tweaked the sign to say Mile 419.9. Or Mile 68.9.

The solution has not al­ways been ef­fec­tive. In 2009, the state added a Kelly green sign read­ing Mile 68.9 to Route 231 in east­ern Washington, said Ryan Over­ton, a spokesman with the Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment. Two years later, some­one stole it. Three years after that, its re­place­ment dis­ap­peared.

And in an­other two years, driv­ers were yet again de­prived of know­ing the mid­point be­tween Miles 68 and 70.

Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment em­ploy­ees also have the bur­den of ex­plain­ing to peo­ple that this pat­tern of sign theft is not at all a laugh­ing mat­ter.

The mile mark­ers are meant to help am­bu­lances and po­lice lo­cate ve­hi­cles in the event of an emer­gency such as a car crash, Over­ton said. And in ru­ral areas, they can be cru­cial in giv­ing driv­ers a geo­graph­i­cal point of ref­er­ence.

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