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Washington State Legislature

May 8, 2019

Chief John Batiste


Washington State Patrol
PO Box 42600
Olympia, WA 98504

Roger Millar
Secretary of Transportation
Washington State Department of Transportation
PO Box 47318
Olympia, WA 98504

Dear Secretary Millar and Chief Batiste,

We are writing to strongly encourage you to enhance your respective agencies' cooperative efforts to
clean up homeless encampments along state highway right-of-way. We recognize the good work of
your agencies in addressing this very difficult statewide problem and encourage you to continue this
work. However, as you know, and as the February 5 work session before the Senate Transportation
Committee reinforced, much more needs to be done to ensure safety when it comes to addressing the
presence of debris, and persons experiencing homelessness, on state highway property. The problem
has become an urgent matter of safety for those experiencing homelessness, the maintenance workers
and bridge inspectors, and the traveling public.

We recognize that addressing homelessness is a larger statewide problem not directly within the core
missions of the Department of Transportation and the Washington State Patrol, and we are not asking
you to solve this significant problem. However, safety along our state's highways is the core mission of
the two agencies.

We also understand that your agencies work cooperatively with the local jurisdictions involved,
specifically the cities of Seattle and Tacoma where many of the higher safety risk areas are located.
However, we also feel that state law, and WSDOT's own guidelines regarding illegal encampments,
provide ample authority to take immediate action to address situations where activity poses a clear
emergency as an imminent threat to public health and safety alongside active highway operations.
** (Please see attached for various legal authorities.)

In our view, actions constituting an emergency warranting immediate removal include camping on
inclines next to an active highway, camping adjacent to an active highway, setting fires near highways,
blocking culvert passages, damaging infrastructure, as well as the presence of large debris and
dangerous substances including propane canisters, human waste, and used needles in highway right-of-
way. Additionally, any right-of-way area deemed unsafe by a WSDOT Regional Administrator should
also be addressed immediately.
As leaders of the transportation committees of the Legislature, we feel it is our collective primary
responsibility to ensure safety on the state highway system, namely the safety of the traveling public,
the WSDOT workers attempting to do the jobs for which they were hired, and the individuals
experiencing homelessness themselves. As such, we are committed to providing additional resources in
the 2019-2021 state transportation budget to help both of your agencies provide enhanced cleanup
activities throughout the central Puget Sound region.

We respectfully request that you use the additional resources we intend to provide, and existing legal
authority, to heighten your efforts in keeping our state highway right-of-way clear of hazardous
conditions posing clear threats to safety.

Sincerely,

Senator Steve Hobbs Senator Curtis King


44th Legislative District 14th Legislative District

Representative Jake Fey Representative Andrew Barkis


27th Legislative District 2nd Legislative District

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Legal Authorities Regarding Addressing Illegal Activity on State Highway Right-of Way

RCW 47.01.260(1) – very broad authority to WSDOT to operate & maintain state highways

RCW 47.32.010 & .020 – WSDOT order to remove obstructions & “means of occupancy” from state
highway ROW (includes a 10-day posting of notice period)

RCW 47.32.130 – threatening & dangerous structures, devices, hazards, or things on state highway ROW
is declared a public nuisance & WSDOT may “take such action as may be necessary to effect its
abatement” and may be “forthwith removed”

RCW 9.66.010 – obstructing a highway is a public nuisance (misdemeanor)

RCW 9.66.050 – depositing, leaving, or keeping “unwholesome substance” on or near a highway is a


gross misdemeanor

RCW 70.93.060 – littering on public highways prohibited (penalties increase depending on volume of
litter)

RCW 9A.52.080 – criminal trespass in 2nd degree, knowingly enters/remains unlawfully upon premises
of another (not a building) is misdemeanor

RCW 47.52.200 – WSP, city police, & county sheriff have independent & concurrent authority to enforce
any law violations occurring on limited access highway facilities passing through cities

WSDOT’s Guidelines to Address Illegal Encampments within State Right of Way (August 22, 2008)
allows exceptions to the 72-hour notice rule, for example removing nuisances or if encampments persist

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