The state Department of Transportation has replaced some mile-marker signs with the numbers 68.9 or 419.9, or removed mileposts 69 and 420 altogether, to combat thefts.
In an effort to thwart the kinds of people amused by stealing signs bearing numbers like “69” and “420,” the Washington State Department of Transportation has, in some places, installed alternatives.
Along one highway in Eastern Washington, for example, the department has replaced an oft-pilfered milepost marker “69” — a number that also refers to a sex position — with one that reads “68.9.” Other times, the agency has decided to simply skip the signs most likely to be purloined, said Department of Transportation spokeswoman Beth Bousley.
“Depending on location and what was taken, we can replace the sign or, at times, leave one blank — so there would be a 419 and 421 mile-marker but not a 420,” she said. “In addition, we’ve created other signs — 419.9 and 68.9 — so they still give drivers location information without being a popular number to steal.”
Highways in Washington state have about 8,245 mile-marker signs, and almost 200 are missing, Bousley said. WSDOT has had to replace 608 signs since 2012, she said.
While generally the thefts are considered an amusing lark to those who take them, transportation officials said the practice poses a danger to other motorists.
Milepost markers are critical for helping first responders quickly find a crash or someone who is injured or needs help, Bousley said.
They’re also used to help find addresses in rural areas, to help drivers track their route, and to pinpoint areas that need maintenance, she said.
Stealing a mile-marker sign could lead to a misdemeanor-theft charge and can be punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine, according to the Washington State Patrol. The practice has been going on for years, Bousley said, and runs in cycles — but shows no signs of abating.
“I know that it’s going on,” Patrol spokesman Trooper Rick Johnson said, “and I guess I can understand it on a juvenile level, but it’s not necessarily funny when you take into account the issues it causes.”
The cost of replacing the signs — which can be as high as $1,000 each — is borne by taxpayers, said Bousley, which diverts money and staff from other projects, such as filling potholes and repairing guardrails.
We’re not the only state affected; for example, Colorado has also tried using signs reading “419.9” instead of “420,” an effort to prevent marijuana enthusiasts from taking them.