Wednesday, February 18, 2009
A self-styled urban artistic group has defaced signs along Interstate 95 and now the police are trying to enlist commuters' help in catching the graffiti artists.
Road workers will have to replace two large Interstate 95 road signs in Miami-Dade County -- likely defaced by urban graffiti artists known as Buk 50 during the Presidents' Day holiday.
Brian Rick, a Florida Department of Transportation spokesman, said Tuesday morning that workers erased the graffiti and that the cost was only about $4,600 -- part of the agency's annual $80,000 expenditure deleting graffiti on signs and other structures in the South Florida district. But by day's end, Rick said his agency concluded that the signs were so faded and damaged after the cleaning that officials decided to replace them as soon as possible at a cost of $46,000.
Graffiti on I-95 is a recurring problem for the Transportation Department, which manages the urban expressway, one of the country's busiest. But it is the first time graffiti has appeared on the new I-95 Express Lane signs installed only last summer. The graffiti covered two signs at the entrance to the northbound Express Lanes just north of the junction of I-95 and State Road 112, the expressway to Miami International Airport.
Buk 50 at first appeared to refer to the electronic toll on the Express Lanes, but it may allude to a group responsible for spray painting designs on highway structures, people familiar with the local urban graffiti community said. Another design below read Free Care, which they said was probably a demand for the release of a graffiti artist already in custody.
Local artist Claudio Picasso told The Miami Herald Tuesday that he recognized the group and that its members call themselves Buk 50. Some of their work is featured on the website MiamiGraffiti.com.
Buk 50 members seem fixated on transportation. Their designs have graced -- or defaced, as the case may be -- road noise walls, overpass support structures and railroad cars. Besides painting their name, designers also repeatedly spray paint the word SMERK.
Picasso suggested that members of Buk 50 picked the I-95 signs because they are strategically placed and hard to miss by daily commuters.
''It's a great location for hundreds of thousands of people to see it,'' Picasso said. ``The reward is worth the risk.''
Picasso described Buk 50 as a ''graffiti crew,'' part of a movement of young urban ''writers'' who feature their work on public structures from roads to bridges to monuments.
Precisely how Buk 50 did it is not known because no witnesses have come forward. The work was done either late Sunday or early Monday, a time when traffic was lighter than normal because it was a holiday, said Lt. Pat Santangelo, a Florida Highway Patrol spokesman.
Santangelo surmised the graffiti artists climbed onto the structure by making their way on catwalks that connect the signs to other more accessible parts of the roadway.
People familiar with the work of local urban graffiti artists say the Buk 50 crew consists of more than a dozen members.
Santangelo urged motorists to alert the agency by dialing *FHP on their cellphones if they witness graffiti artists at work anywhere. Santangelo said FHP can then contact the transportation agency, ask employees to turn surveillance cameras on the suspect location and record the event as evidence.
The work of Buk 50 is reminiscent of two legendary urban graffiti artists known as Crook and Crome who repeatedly spray painted their nicknames and designs on I-95 signs and structures in the 1990s.