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Every year, MoDOT deals with stolen or damaged road signs, but in the past few years, a new problem has surfaced. Vandals with paintball guns have started using highway signs for target practice. Vandalized road signs, whether they are knocked down, stolen, shot or defaced, could cost Missourians more than just money, it could cost them their lives. The problem of sign vandalism has wide ranging safety and economic effects.
A recent rash of vandalism to roadway warning signs in Lincoln County has left MoDOT and local authorities concerned. During September, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department discovered 26 signs shot with paintballs at various locations along Routes TT, D, E, H, O, PP and TT. The total amount for the damages was $6,000. Taxpayers are paying tens of thousands of dollars to repair or replace signs that have been knocked over or covered with graffiti or stolen each year due to vandalism. “Everyone was lucky this time. Twenty-two stop signs were damaged along with some object markers,” said MoDOT Area Engineer Erik Maninga. “When a stop sign is damaged, it is a priority for us to get it replaced immediately because they are critical to drivers’ safety,” he continued. The vandalism results in costs for replacing the signs, equipment and labor. Replacing vandalized or stolen stop signs costs Missouri taxpayers anywhere from $200 to $300 each.
Maninga said this is a major problem resulting in big expenses for the Missouri taxpayer. “Even though some of the signs can be cleaned, others have to be replaced since the cleaning chemicals can destroy the sign’s special reflective coating that makes them visible at night,” Maninga explained.
Maninga added each time one of these signs is damaged or stolen; it must be replaced to keep motorists safe and informed. Larger signs, such as those found on four-lane highways or the interstate can easily run into thousands of dollars. “When you consider there are approximately 55,300 signs along the 9,794 miles of road in the Northeast District alone, the cost for sign damage can be shocking,” he explained.
The absence of a road sign makes it more difficult for law enforcement and emergency crews to respond to a life-threatening situation. What starts out as cheap thrill or what some think to be a harmless prank on a Friday or Saturday night results in damage to state property by some thoughtless person. Taxpayers are left to pick up the cost unless the perpetrator is picked up by law enforcement and prosecuted. The person or persons responsible for removing, defacing or destroying road signs or markers could be subject to lawsuits, prison, other fines, and penalties. Removing or tampering with signs is against the law and punishable by a fine of $1000 and one year imprisonment.
Questions about property damage issues or other transportation projects can be answered by calling MoDOT’s toll-free Customer Service line at 1-888-275-6636 (1-888-ASK MODOT) during normal business hours or visiting the website at www.modot.gov/northeast.