Back-Seat Driver

Dude! What did that traffic sign say?

Hackers managed to change this message board in Granite Bay a few weeks ago.
Hackers managed to change this message board in Granite Bay a few weeks ago.

Drivers in downtown Sacramento were treated for a couple hours last week to a flashing traffic alert unlike any they probably ever had seen.

There’s an electronic message board at 16th and P streets lately that has been warning drivers, “Left lane closed ahead.”

Except for one night last week when it announced: “F--- yeah dude.” In all caps. Without those dashes.

Some people sent Sacramento Public Works Director Jerry Way a text and photo that night. He immediately called city dispatch: Get that thing turned off or turned around! Workers managed to pivot the board away from traffic. The next morning, the contractor for an apartment project on 16th Street got workers to change the message back.

It appears someone broke the lock and knew enough to hack into the computer and change the message, said Nann Reed, who is with Tricorp Hearn Construction, which is using a lane of the street for an apartment construction project. She said her company is asking the message board owners to “secure it in a way that this doesn’t happen again.”

So who’s the culprit?

Mat Almandariz, who’s with the company that owns the moveable message board, said it could be any number of people in the construction industry who are familiar with how the message board works and who possibly felt like impressing friends. It’s the first time one of his company’s boards has been hacked like that, he said. “It’s not easy to do.”

It turns out this wasn’t the only changeable message sign hacked in the region recently. Another incident occurred at Auburn Folsom Road and Douglas Boulevard in Granite Bay a few weeks ago. The rogue message temporarily flashed on that sign offered a glimpse into the culprit’s mindset. It said: “Smoke weed erryday.”

Are the two incidents the work of one person? We were unable to reach officials in Placer County to offer up what clues they have.

People in the signboard industry say it’s unusual but not unheard of for message boards to be hacked. Earlier this year, a Los Angeles road sign suddenly ordered drivers: “Read a (expletive) book.” In San Francisco last year, one board announced: “Godzilla attack!” Another in the Bay Area read “Don’t panic” the morning after the Golden State Warriors lost a playoff basketball game.

Way, the city’s public works director, remains perturbed. Those message signs are there for public safety, he said, and contractors should make sure they are not messed with.

“That represents an unsafe predicament we’ve put the public in,” he said.

Capital City Freeway work

The Capital City Freeway over the American River is typically the single-most-congested spot in the region. It’s a bit worse at times lately. Caltrans contractors are doing a major rehab project there, scraping off the old asphalt and laying down a new layer. Work, done mostly at night, is expected to run through January.

It includes closing lanes and some ramps at night. To get the word out to drivers about upcoming closures, they are, yes, using electronic message boards. So far, none have told drivers to deal with it by ingesting certain substances “erryday.”