Graffiti gone: Now mayor wants mural for Fort Lauderdale tunnel on busy U.S. 1

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It was an attention-grabbing graffiti surprise, sitting high on the southern entrance to the U.S. 1 tunnel in bustling downtown Fort Lauderdale.

And now, just like that, it’s gone.

The tag — “Mersa Dustoe,” an Indonesian phrase meaning “I feel dusty” — disappeared early Monday morning, quickly painted over by a state contractor.

The graffiti showed up overnight on Sunday, prompting jokes and barbed commentary on social media. Some people declared they thought the state-owned tunnel looked better with the graffiti than without.

“The Tag Artist’s work looks better than the state’s,” said one post on X. “Faster too.”

The tunnel is in the midst of a dusty construction job that’s taking more than two years and costing taxpayers $28.4 million. The work began in September 2021 and is not expected to wrap up until May 2024.

The tagging incident prompted Mayor Dean Trantalis to suggest the state hire an artist to paint a mural on the tunnel’s gray overhang. The mural would serve two purposes, beautifying the tunnel while discouraging vandals from tagging it again.

“What concerns me is that vandalism like this can reoccur,” Trantalis said. “We have to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Maybe we should put real artwork at that location.”

Billy Canedo, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, came back with a question of his own.

“Is the mayor offering up the funds?” Canedo asked. “I’d have to ask to see if that would be possible. We don’t have funds set up for murals.”

Earmarking money for a mural over the tunnel would require commission approval, Trantalis said.

Commissioner Steve Glassman, for one, likes the mayor’s idea.

“I’m all for public art,” Glassman said. “But you don’t want it to be too distracting, having people crashing into the wall.”

Glassman says he thinks this is the first time the tunnel has ever been marred by graffiti.

The state could not confirm that on Monday.

“I don’t know if we even keep records of that,” Canedo said.

The records would have to go back to 1960.

That was the year the tunnel opened, replacing a bridge used by commuters to cross over the New River.

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department is now investigating the incident.

Here’s a warning for anyone who wants to do it again.

“We’ve placed surveillance cameras on both sides of the tunnel,” said City Manager Greg Chavarria. “I’m going to be meeting with the district secretary (of DOT) to see how we can keep it from happening again.”

Susannah Bryan can be reached at sbryan@sunsentinel.com. Follow me on X @Susannah_Bryan

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