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DOT to politicians: Signs not welcome on freeways

Small-town politicians don’t raise the kind of money to buy broadcast advertisements, so they use signs to get out their names.

But last week the state Department of Transportation warned candidates and their supporters to keep local highways beautiful by keeping their campaign signs away.

And as one political sign maker said, he’s noticed candidates spending less on campaign materials, candidates may want to look after the placement.

Campaign signs are prohibited in the right-of-way areas next to highways, and those on private property visible from state roads are regulated. A rule of thumb is signs are prohibited inside the fences and utility poles that run along highways, said Pat O’Leary, outdoor advertising specialist for the department. The intent goes back to the 1950s, the start of the country’s interstate system, when leaders believed that because taxpayers were building the roads, they were entitled to view the country’s natural beauty without being inundated by advertisements, O’Leary said. States that enforce the federal rules are entitled to a significantly larger share of federal highway money.

“So it’s a good deal,” he said.

And with last year’s presidential and gubernatorial campaign, and the proliferation of signs, the department is pushing a message of highway beautification.

O’Leary said a few here and there can lead to a cluster, and he’s been hearing complaints.

“This year, again, we’re seeing a lot of signs,” he said.

Posting the signs in the right-of-way is a misdemeanor under state law, theoretically punishable with fines and jail time, O’Leary said. He was quick to note no one has been prosecuted for the crime.

“Once informed what they are doing is violating state law they stop doing it,” he said.

Most of the time crews simply remove the signs when they have time, but O’Leary said the department doesn’t want candidates to lose signs, which can be expensive.

He urges candidates and supporters to ask private property owners beside highways for permission to post them.

Signs on private property that are visible to state highways must be no larger than 32-square feet and must be removed 10 days after election day.

For a couple hundred of them, the basic yard sign costs about $4, said Jerry LaCrosse, operations manager for Thompson Signs in Lacey. Buy up to 1,000 and the price drops to about $3.

“This year has been really, really slow,” he said of campaign sign orders, attributing the slack in business to the economy. “They are watching where they are spending money.”

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