Panhandlers, take note — the Highway 240 exit to Columbia Center Boulevard is off-limits.
And state transportation officials have the signs posted now to enforce it.
Meagan Lott, a Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said they recently installed the signs because panhandlers were too close to traffic at the busy interchange.
“It was just a matter of it becoming a safety concern not only for them, but other drivers,” Lott said.
Before the signs, police and state troopers couldn’t enforce trespassing laws because it wasn’t posted.
That put panhandlers in a legal gray area and restricted what police could do “because we couldn’t really get them to leave,” Lott said.
The trespassing issue makes is different than the anti-panhandling ordinances that Kennewick, Pasco and Richland previously considered to combat panhandling at busy city intersections.
The state Supreme Court issued a ruling in 2016 that said outlawing “begging” is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.
But the new signs mean state and local police can enforce trespass laws.
An officer or trooper might only have to ask someone to leave. If the person doesn’t, an officer could cite and remove them.
The intersection, which has no sidewalk or crosswalk, isn’t meant for pedestrians.
The trespassing applies not only to panhandlers, Lott said, though they spurred the need for signs.
Lott confirmed “it would address anyone who’s in that area,” including someone just crossing the bridge.