WSDOT: Brazen vandals targeting local highways

SEATTLE -- More and more graffiti is showing up on I-5, and police say the vandals are getting more brazen in their attempts to tag hard-to-reach places.

Police say taggers and graffiti artists have always migrated to easy targets, but some are now taking the opposite approach and laying down graffiti in places difficult to clean up, such as the I-5 express lanes.

"As far as a the amount of graffiti, it's gotten worse. It has increased," said Tim Ditch with the state Department of Transportation.

Ditch should know, because he and his crew are responsible for cleaning up graffiti on state highway .

"This time of year its tougher for us to keep up with it because of weather," he said.

The cat-and-mouse act between road crews, cops and vandals is nothing new, but it's becoming increasingly dangerous for everyone involved.

Vandals are now finding places too difficult and and risky for state crews to reach and clean up in a timely fashion. Workers try to have graffiti painted over 48 hours after it's discovered, but that's becoming more difficult.

"We have to close lanes. We have to make sure our people are as safe as possible. We don't take the same risks as those people do," said Bart Treece with the Department of Transportation.

As a detective working full time on graffiti crimes, Chris Young of the Seattle Police Department is a rarity in Washington. Few people know more about what makes the vandals tick than Young.

"They do it for two main reasons," he said. "The first is attention-seeking behavior, and the second is thrill-seeking behavior."

Young said said the I-5 express lanes are being targeted because they're closed from 11 p.m. To 5 a.m.. The state closes them at night to cut back on the echo chamber the traffic creates in the Eastlake neighborhood.

"Graffiti is a crime where they essentially leave a signed confession at the crime scene," Young said.

A confession that's posted for all to see on websites like Flicker, which makes it easier for Young to find the culprits. But the chance of being arrested doesn't stop thrill-seeking novices from tagging highways.

"A lot of times they are hanging from dangerous places. It's almost like an extreme sport, like bungee jumping to them," Young said.

Some vandals do use ropes to hold them while they tag hard-to-reach places along the highway.

Anyone who witnesses vandalism is encouraged to call 911.