The city of San Luis Obispo is leading a multi-party effort to remove 2-week-old graffiti that has become a prominent eyesore over the main road into town, but complications with the location mean it likely won’t be solved any time soon.
On or around Jan. 13, a vandal spray-painted a large, four-letter word in bright white lettering on the Union Pacific Railroad bridge greeting southbound traffic on Highway 101, parallel to the California Boulevard overpass.
San Luis Obispo police Lt. Bill Proll said Tuesday the city has its own graffiti abatement program and is anxious to have that graffiti painted over. But the location adds an extra layer of red tape — the bridge is owned by Union Pacific Corp, which operates and maintains the railroad. The city does not have jurisdiction to perform any work, Proll said.
Additionally, the bridge crosses Highway 101 on the northeast side of the city. Unless Union Pacific can access the graffiti from the top of the bridge, crews will have to access the graffiti from a bucket truck below, requiring the involvement of Caltrans to close at least one lane during work.
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To make matters worse, the area is home to busy on- and off-ramps, at least one of which will likely need to be closed.
“We’re talking a rather dangerous spot to have to do something like this,” Proll said.
As of this week, the city has discussed the issue with Caltrans, which has committed to help, Proll said. However, neither agency has received a definitive response from Union Pacific.
Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt confirmed in an email Tuesday that the company is currently in talks with police and Caltrans but said that no plan has been finalized.
The company’s roughly 31,000 miles of railway cover 23 states in the western two-thirds of the country, according to its website. Company property regularly attracts graffiti but is generally outside of the public view — until the tracks traverse highways and other main arteries.
“Tagging is a challenge when it involves infrastructure like a bridge,” Hunt wrote in an email Tuesday. “It is difficult to mitigate and often returns quickly when it is removed.”
Proll said the city is looking into whether it can remove the paint itself if Union Pacific will not be able to address it within a couple months.
“We’re working together,” Proll said. “But it’s not easy.”
Proll said the department is not familiar with the vandal and there are currently no suspects. He did say, however, that it was unclear how the person accessed the side of the bridge but that it would have been extremely dangerous — and costly — to the tagger. Proll said he estimated at least five cans of spray paint were used in the vandalism, which would have taken some time to complete.