Wash­ing­ton State aims to stop theft of Mile 420 signs

The Buffalo News - - NATIONAL NEWS - By Ju­lia Ja­cobs

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.

“These are a big safety is­sue, and that’s why we ask peo­ple not to take them,” he said.

The Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment has also tried to im­press upon peo­ple that the fi­nan­cial bur­den of re­plac­ing these signs ul­ti­mately falls on the tax­pay­ers.

Over­ton es­ti­mated that this prob­lem has ex­isted for about 20 years. Rick John­son, an­other spokesman for the state pa­trol, said it felt as if it had been an an­noy­ance for “as long as they’ve had signs.”

Other states have also tried dec­i­mal points as a so­lu­tion to dis­ap­pear­ing sig­nage. Sev­eral years ago, Colorado went all the way to the hun­dredths place when it cre­ated a Mile 419.99 marker for In­ter­state 70, the Den­ver Post re­ported. By 2015, Idaho had gone for a Mile 419.9 sign, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press.

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