PARLEYS CANYON — Early Friday morning, taggers covered two interstate signs at the mouth of Parleys Canyon.

It's a crime that compromises safety on the road and costs taxpayers thousands of dollars to clean up, Utah Department of Transportation officials said.

The graffiti nearly covered two of three signs on the merge from I-215 to I-80. The Utah Highway Patrol fears the graffiti could lead to a deadly crash.

“This is not a childish prank. This is a criminal act that is putting lives at risk,” UDOT spokesman John Gleason said.

In the middle of the night, one or more vandals climbed the sign and spent enough time up there to paint letters that are more than 5 feet high.

The signs are now obscured, which will cause some confusion and possibly accidents, Gleason said.

When drivers approach the signs looking to see which way to go, they may take an exit at the last minute, the UHP said.

“They may take evasive action to make their exit at the last moment, causing them to overcorrect or hit a vehicle because they’re trying to make their exit,” UHP Sgt. Steve Manful said.

The tagging isn’t just dangerous for drivers.

“It’s dangerous for the cleanup crews that will have to spend their time there hanging out over traffic, and it’s obviously very dangerous for the vandal himself. If the fall doesn’t kill him, the (semitrailer) would,” Gleason said.

By mid-morning Friday, UDOT maintenance crews were out scrubbing the signs. In an average year, UDOT spends close to $70,000 cleaning up graffiti. If the cleaning process takes off too much of the reflective coating, it has to replace the sign, which can cost up to $15,000.

This isn’t the first time the signs have been tagged. Someone sprayed graffiti on the signs in March 2009.

The Salt Lake City Metro Gang Unit said it was not gang graffiti, but tagger graffiti painted by those who consider themselves artists.

Graffiti or tagging on the interstate isn’t new. A few years ago, UDOT put up some metal plates to stop people from climbing the signs and a special clear coat on the signs.

“The trick is to stay one step ahead of them,” Gleason said.

Graffiti vandalism is a class B misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Anyone who sees someone involved in tagging or graffiti of a sign can call Utah Highway Patrol at 801-887-3800.