Michigan uses Esri’s ArcGIS platform for highway graffiti cleaning program


The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has used geographic information system (GIS) technology from global mapping company Esri to help it remove graffiti from highway information signs in the Detroit metropolitan region.

Detroit had a challenge familiar to many metropolitan areas: unwanted graffiti on public infrastructure, and MDOT noticed new graffiti appearing in more precarious spots. Instead of marking up typical roadside assets, such as walls and bridge beams, taggers were spray painting signs that hung 15ft (5m) in the air, usually above moving traffic. At the peak of the problem, more than 90 overhead signs were tagged along Detroit freeways, creating distracting and unsafe driving conditions. MDOT maintenance crews needed to find a way to efficiently clean the signs, especially the ones affixed to bridges and trusses over roadways with high volumes of traffic.

At the time, MDOT’s central GIS team was testing ArcGIS Online and Collector for ArcGIS, and since the Detroit office needed to locate all the tagged signs and plan cleaning operations so as not to disturb traffic, the team decided it would be an ideal pilot project for testing the two Esri programs. As well as getting the signs cleaned, the ArcGIS Online Graffiti Pilot project had three additional objectives:

• Streamline cleaning efforts across the five offices and maintenance garages involved in graffiti removal;

• Develop a reporting tool that showed the operation’s progress to MDOT management and outside agencies, such as the City of Detroit and police departments;

• Gain experience using the innovative ArcGIS technology.

MDOT maintenance staff began gathering data using Collector on their smartphones and tablets. Every place they saw a tagged sign, they would: record the location, note the sign’s basic attributes and route direction, the side the graffiti was on, its status in the project (tagged, clean, retagged), the date of the most recent activity on the sign, and a photo. The mobile data helped MDOT decide how much of the road to close during the cleaning and for how long, as well as the amount of cleaning supplies that would be needed.

The team also incorporated MDOT’s live lane closure service so that cleaning could be done at the same time as other roadwork. Using GIS in the planning process enabled MDOT to better coordinate its operations and minimize traffic disturbances, while allowing cleaning teams to communicate with each other.

It only took MDOT 35 cleaning days to clear up 76 signs, and the agency also used the GIS data to install climbing deterrents on trusses and replace 30 of the signs that were too badly defaced to clean. The pilot project initiated a new way for MDOT to contract out graffiti cleaning, with regional contractors now taking job data directly from the ArcGIS platform.

“Having the graffiti information and photos in the online map was critical for us to be able to efficiently and accurately report the status of the cleaning work to our stakeholders throughout the cleaning process,” noted Tony Kratofil, MDOT’s Detroit region administrator.

Share this story:

About Author


Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).