JEFFERSON CITY - Splat!
The sight and sound of a paintball hitting a highway sign may make teens' adrenaline flow, but it makes highway officials' blood boil.
Vandals "tagging" signs with spray paint is costly for taxpayers and unsafe for motorists, so the Missouri Department of Transportation is fighting back. Rather than replace defaced signs, MoDOT is now cleaning them when it can. The department is the first state in the nation to test various types of paint remover and put them to use on highway signs. Cleaning a sign rather than replacing it saves as much as $1,000 depending on the sign's size.
"We are always looking for ways to be more efficient," said MoDOT Interim Director Kevin Keith. "These products provide a new avenue that will help us meet our five-year direction for cutting costs."
While there are many paint removal products on the market, many of them will render a highway sign "dead," meaning they strip away the materials that make the sign reflective at night. MoDOT performed extensive research and testing to find products that wouldn't damage the sign's reflectivity or leave a shadow where the spray paint or paintball mess was.
"We were delighted to find products already on the market that would clean the signs without hindering their visibility and readability," said Jen Harper, an organizational performance engineer with MoDOT.
To test the paint removers, MoDOT plastered all types and colors of highway signs with spray paint and paintballs, and then allowed the paint to dry under simulated weather conditions such as extreme heat and cold. The paint was then removed with the trial chemicals, and the sign was tested in a laboratory that replicates night-time driving conditions.
MoDOT crews recently put the products to work on several signs near LaMonte with positive results. The agency plans to share its findings with other states.
Incidents of vandals painting highway signs is growing, perhaps with the popularity of paintball as a sport. The problem isn't restricted to rural areas, either. Even interstate signs have been targets.
"Every time we have to replace a vandalized sign, that means less money is going to fix our roads and bridges," said Keith. "The destruction penalizes everyone who uses our highway system."
A video showing how the paint removal products work is available online at www.modot.org.
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