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Getting a Sign Permit and Right of Way Considerations

Property Signage

Displaying custom signs on streets, interstate highways, and applying for sign permits.

Question: Is it OK to put my sign on the highway Right-of-Way or State property?

No. Not in any state or 1st World country that I’m aware of can this be done. It is considered a potential hazard at worst and pollution at best.

Now, if you want to put a sign pretty much anywhere you want, move your business to a 3rd World Developing Nation such as the Dominican Republic or Honduras or Indonesia, where anything goes.

The interstate highways, state highways, county roads, or city streets of most developed nations (a euphemism for nations that have way too many rules and regulations) reserve the right of way specifically for traffic control signs, signals, and maintenance vehicles – primarily.

And it is safer than not having it that way. Having lived and driven in developing nations, though, it is a lot more exciting to drive where things are still a bit crazy. Kind of like living in the wild west.

Question : Can I put an off-premise advertising sign next to the interstate?

sign cabinet This is related to the previous question, but is a bit different. I’ll assume, for sake of clarity, that your sign would not be on the Federal, State, or local road or highway right of way.

This now becomes a local code issue, and has nothing to do with the USDOT. You’ll have to check your state and local sign codes to find out if this is something you can do, as essentially your sign is in the same category as a billboard, and so it will be allowed in some areas, but not in others.

First, call your county or municipal building department and ask them if this can be done. You’ll need the parcel number, most likely, where the sign would be located, or address. If it passes muster with the local sign police, then you’ll want to call the state department of transportation in the state where you want the sign, and make sure that the type of sign, size, and height of the sign will pass the coding set by your state.

Once you’ve taken these steps, you will know, one way or the other, what you’ll be able to do as far as your desired sign goes.

Read here for more information about advertising signs, as well as logos and lettering.

Question: Why do I have to get a sign permit?

That is a good question. I would say the main reason is to keep bureaucrats fat, but lest I offend one of them, I’ll also give you their side of the story.

The Government Requires It

illuminated business signpostMost major cities require signs to be a certain size in various zones – commercial, business, residential, etc. It is generally forbidden to have signs in residential areas except temporary signs like real estate signs, and political signs, although in the two least free states in the country, California and New York, there are municipalities that have forbidden even those.

The scuttlebutt that they’ll give you for these restrictions is that signs are not natural and they are an eyesore to some, so therefore, they want them lumped into certain areas that are already ugly anyway.

To a degree, having resided in a “developing nation” (formerly known as 3rd world countries), I can see their point. In free societies, anyone can put up a sign any place, and no sign police will come and tell you a sign can’t be put where you’re putting it. This also means that in a wind storm, that sign may blow over, or it may short out on the pole, and if anyone happens to be near the pole, they could be electrocuted as well.

So, you can’t have your cake (freedom), and eat it too (safety). It seems there’s no perfect way to make everyone happy, so my suggestion is to live where your comfortable, and hopefully you can put the sign up you want to put up. Check with the county or municipality where you live first. Or, if you’re really a good planner, check with them before you move to that area.

State and Federal regulations and laws require permits so we can keep track of the number, use, location, spacing, and maintenance of signs. This also helps us ensure signs are properly maintained, removed when they have served their purpose, do not clutter our roadsides, and do not create a safety hazard.


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Barry K. Brown

Barry Brown has been in the Sign, Banner, Decal and Display Business for over 20 years. It isn't what he thought he'd do with his life, but he says he knows too much now to do anything else!

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