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South Portland Police try to keep sound wall from becoming graffiti wall

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South Portland Police try to keep sound wall from becoming graffiti wall

SOUTH PORTLAND — Residents who live along Interstate 295 are presumably pleased to be seeing their long-awaited sound wall arise between their bedroom windows and the rush of 40,000 vehicles a day. 

But if recent weeks are any indication, the wall could come complete with its own set of problems.

A giant blue tarp is now draped over the two northern-most panels of the the 3,500-foot long sound wall, which was tagged by graffiti vandals on Dec. 19, according to a state Department of Transportation manager.

Most of the damage occurred on the surface facing the Interstate, but there was also damage to the wall facing homes.

As gusts of wind kicked up along the Interstate Tuesday afternoon, the message "Merry X-Mas" could be discerned in red paint. Under the concealed portion of the wall, police said "TEARS" was the primary tag, written in bubbly block letters, accompanied with "peace 2 last" and a peace symbol.

Officer Jeffrey Caldwell is a member of South Portland's selective enforcement unit and the Police Department's graffiti specialist. Caldwell said he will be working with the State Police to document and investigate the vandalism so authorities can prevent the sound wall from essentially becoming a graffiti wall. 

"We will be periodically checking the area for graffiti vandals and will prosecute under the state law and/or city ordinance if any violations are found," Caldwell said. "We will discuss using cameras or other techniques to apprehend graffiti vandals if the need should arise."

It was largely through Caldwell's research and efforts the city enacted a municipal graffiti ordinance stricter than the state's. The city broadly defined graffiti implements and made it illegal for certain people to possess them.

The wall, which is made out of a course wood and concrete composite, could be difficult and expensive to clean.

Ernie Martin, the sound wall project manager, said the DOT has a cleaning solution capable of dissolving the paint, but it only works in temperatures above 50 degrees. The DOT could tent off and heat-up the tagged portions, he said. Otherwise the tags could remain until the spring. 

Martin said graffiti was also a problem when a wooden sound wall was installed in Bangor. Vandals eventually grew tired of tagging the wall; Martin hopes the same happens in South Portland.

"For the sake and integrity of the wall, hopefully people will leave it alone," he said.

Besides the graffiti, Martin said the project is going relatively smoothly, despite the fact it is behind schedule.

The sound wall is part of a $5.3 million project between exits 3 and 4 on Interstate 295. The project started in July and involved building auxiliary lanes between the two exits.

The project was originally scheduled to be completed by December, but Martin said the complexity of the sound wall construction has pushed the expected completion date to the spring.

Martin said the remaining panels of the sound wall should be installed sometime in January, but the whole project will not be completed until April, when crews will install better signs on the highway, letting drivers know the new lanes are exit only.

"Overall, it's been a good project," he said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net