ODOT: Campaign, advertisement signs don't belong in highway rights-of-way

Kim Morava
The Shawnee News-Star

As the April 6 general election approaches, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation reminds political candidates and volunteers to stay safe, follow the law, save taxpayer money and keep Oklahoma’s highways and interstates free of litter by keeping temporary signs out of highway rights-of-way. Additionally, businesses and individuals are reminded that all signs in the state’s right-of-way, such as advertisements for yard sales, open houses and other sales promotions, are illegal.

State law found in 69 O.S. § 1208(b) strictly prohibits such signs from being placed in state rights-of-way because of safety concerns. Not only can illegally placed signs block drivers’ views at intersections, medians or ramps and hinder maintenance operations, but also endanger those who try to post them along high-speed roadways or on bridges.

Generally, state rights-of-way includes the area of grass between a highway and the nearby fence in rural areas. In cities and towns, the right-of-way can extend past the curb to include the grass and sidewalk area along a highway. Laws governing city streets or county roads are made by local government officials, so Oklahomans should check with their city or county before placing signs. Even within city limits, however, signs are prohibited on state-maintained highways, overpasses and bridges.

“We know candidates and salespeople want to advertise to passing traffic, but they need to go through the proper channels to place their signs on private property with the landowner’s permission,” ODOT State Maintenance Engineer Taylor Henderson said. “Signs in highway rights-of-way can block drivers’ vision when turning, blow into traffic or damage state maintenance equipment.”

When signs are illegally placed, ODOT crews spend time away from other highway maintenance operations like patching potholes and repairing guardrail to remove them, which can be time-consuming and hazardous work close to oncoming traffic. Removal of litter, including illegal signs, also delays highway mowing since the signs and metal posts could damage state equipment.

Each year, taxpayers spend nearly $6 million to pick up trash along Oklahoma highways, including illegally placed signs. This money comes out of ODOT’s maintenance budget, the same source of funds for pavement patching, guardrail repair, mowing and snow and ice clearance. The cost also includes use of inmate labor to clean up litter. This expense is in addition to the untold amounts of time and money local governments and volunteer groups spend annually removing litter.