Reminder: Keep political signs off highway right-of-way

With a host of national, state and local elections set for this fall, campaign signs are an increasingly common sight. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is reminding candidates, campaign workers and the general public that state law prohibits the placement of any type of sign – including political, commercial or garage sale signs – on highway right-of-way.

“This is not a political issue, this is a matter of public safety,” said Allan Johnson with WisDOT’s Bureau of Highway Maintenance. Improperly-placed signs:

· Distract motorists or obstruct their view, especially at intersections;

· Pose a safety risk to people who enter highway right-of-way to install a sign, and to road maintenance workers who will remove the sign;

· Damage or disable mowers and other equipment, and can potentially injure maintenance workers or others. Signs with wire supports degrade in the weather, leaving only the wire frame that is difficult to see.

State law prohibits the placement of signs within highway right-of-way, except for official traffic signs. This prohibition extends to all numbered state, federal and interstate highways, along with county highways, town roads, municipal streets, alleys, bike and pedestrian paths. In general, highway right-of-way in a rural area extends to beyond shoulders, ditches and any adjoining fence line. In urban areas, right-of-way generally extends beyond the sidewalk.

Signposts and street name marker posts are always within the right-of-way. Most utility poles are within highway right-of-way and can be used as a rough guide for sign placement. If a sign is placed between a utility pole and a roadway – it is likely in an illegal location. Signs are not allowed within street terrace areas, highway medians or roundabouts. With the landowner’s consent, political signs are permitted on private property without a billboard permit as long as the signs do not exceed 32 square feet and contain no flashing lights or moving parts.

Improperly-located signs are dealt with as part of regular highway maintenance. A sign that poses a traffic safety hazard will be promptly removed. Road maintenance crews are asked to make reasonable attempts to preserve larger, improperly-placed campaign signs and provide campaign offices an opportunity to retrieve them.

“If you see road maintenance workers removing improperly-located signs, remember, they’re simply enforcing state law and keeping roadways as safe as possible for everyone,” Johnson said.

State law (Section 86.19) provides for a fine from $10 to $500 for signs that violate the law. Local municipalities may have additional guidelines regulating the placement of signs along county highways or local roads and streets. Persons who illegally place signs may also be liable for any damages caused to equipment or people.

More information on state laws pertaining to the placement of political signs can be found on the WisDOT Web site at: