WA Looks to Drones to Paint Over Graffiti


A pilot program signed into law this month in Washington state will utilize state-of-the-art spray drone technology to cover up graffiti and combat vandalism on transportation infrastructure.

“This legislation is a testament to our commitment as lawmakers to restoring the dignity of our public infrastructure and ensuring Washington remains a place of pride for all its residents,” said Representative Andrew Barkis (R-Olympia) in a statement.

“I am confident this pilot program will make significant strides in combating graffiti vandalism and reestablishing a culture of respect for our shared spaces.”

Barkis introduced HB 1989 at the end of last year, with plans to create a million-dollar pilot program that will utilize the drones to paint over the graffiti. Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill into law on March 15.

“Drone technology is expanding,” said Barkis. “There are actually drones that you can load with paint and paint over this.”

As well as drones, the program will reportedly explore different paints and coverings that could be used on infrastructure to prevent spray paint from sticking.

Additionally, traffic cameras will be used to deter and identify graffiti artists while they’re tagging walls. These are currently not used because the footage is not recorded, only providing the most current snapshot, and “significant” funding is needed to store footage from more than 600 cameras across the state.

The Washington State Department of Transportation has found that the costs of cleaning up graffiti increased significantly in 2020, and these numbers have also spiked again last year. In the past two years, maintenance teams have reportedly spent $1.4 million on graffiti removal, and the Department says it anticipated spending even more in the next two.

“Today, you’d have to send out a crew with a high-lift truck and about eight people, and it just takes too long and is too expensive,” said Barkis. "One person with a drone can paint over an area, and if you have a fleet of those, then you’re staying on top of it, cleaning it up, and not allowing it to stay present for a long period of time.”

Barkis says graffiti is “out of control,” covering highway projects that were just completed along transportation corridors. WSDOT notes that crews often report a location is tagged again within days or even hours of graffiti removal.

“All that brand new infrastructure, all that Sound Transit, every bit of it, all the way to Seattle and beyond is tagged and covered with graffiti,” he said. “Seattle is a beautiful city, and it needs to reflect that."

Barkis also cited some upcoming events scheduled to take place in the Seattle area in the near future, including the 2026 FIFA World Cup, as more reason to tackle the graffiti problem.

“We [have] millions of people coming here, we [have] the World Cup coming here ... the way it looks today is disgusting,” he said.

WSDOT will reportedly oversee the program, which is slated to kick off on June 6. 

After six months, in December, WSDOT will submit a report to the Legislature, detailing the program’s progress, including funding allocation, the effectiveness of identification methods, and the results of spray drone testing. The pilot program will conclude on July 1, 2025.

Barkis hopes this can be the first step in cleaning up the state’s highways.

“I don’t believe that graffiti will ever go away. It’s been around forever,” he admits. “But I think there’s a pride in our community. I think that the people of Seattle, and the Northwest, and the Puget Sound region especially, are very tired of this.”


Tagged categories: Coating Application; Coatings; drone; Drones; Government; Graffiti; Graffiti removal; Graffiti-resistant coatings; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Laws and litigation; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Technology; Tools & Equipment; Transportation

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