As each election day grows nearer, political campaign signs multiply along state roads. Some drivers find them annoying, but some state officials consider them potentially hazardous.
Last week, the Mississippi Department of Transportation warned political candidates that signs placed on public right-of-ways will be removed.
Mississippi Code of 1972 names these signs a “public nuisance.” Therefore, the department has authority to remove the signs after 10 days’ notice to the owner of the signs. As signs continue to sprout during each campaign cycle, this could be considered a losing battle.
The department maintains more than 30,000 miles of highway. But the width of the right-of-way owned by the state can include driving lanes, shoulders and mowed areas. According to the department, this right-of-way area can extend 300 feet or more from the center-line of the driving lanes.
“Aside from being a driving distraction along with potentially blocking sight lines and sight distances for motorists,” MDOT’s Chief Engineer Mark McConnell wrote in answer to questions sent to the department, “signs with steel or wooden posts pose potential hazards that may cause harm to roadside workers, damage roadside equipment or could become projectiles if hit by mowers.”
Along with contributing to state’s $3.2 million litter collection problem, time that maintenance workers spend time picking signs is time away from their own projects.
“Most signs are removed during maintenance work such as mowing operations,” McConnell wrote. “If it becomes a consistent problem or a hazard, crews have to spend unnecessary time picking up the illegal signs. This takes them away from other necessary maintenance activities.”
When crews remove signs, they are stored in local MDOT maintenance facilities. The candidate has two weeks to retrieve them before they will be discarded, according to McConnell.
“To my knowledge, I can’t recall any accidents related to campaign signs, but anything that catches your eyes, causing you to look over for just a second or two is a problem,” said Corporal Tony Dunn of the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
“Certainly if the sign is big enough and lit up enough it could be a distraction. And it only takes a second to crash into somebody or run off the roadway,” Dunn said
For information regarding the beginning and end of public right away, MDOT advises the public to call their local MDOT maintenance facility.