Despite laws, signs springing up along state-maintained roads

DOT can only enforce law on private property to an extent

A Debbie White for Assembly sign erected on private property near the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Up until last week, Emily Haynes hadn’t gotten a single complaint from a member of the Juneau community about campaign signs.

 

As the Oct. 3 election has drawn nearer, however, the Alaska Department of Transportation Right of Way Agent has been much busier. There’s been an increase in complaints, Haynes said Wednesday, about where campaign signs are placed throughout town.

According to DOT regulations, campaign signs are not allowed “on, adjacent to or where they may be viewed from state maintained highways and right-of-ways.” Unauthorized use of these right-of-ways, the DOT website says, is “illegal and poses a threat to the safety of the traveling public.”

With constituents looking to promote their candidates of choice, some signs have found their way to areas where they’re technically not allowed. Alaska Statute 19.25.105 (a) and (c) state that signs on private or commercial property cannot be located within 660 feet of a state-maintained road or “with the purpose of their message being read from the main traveled way.”

“If signs are placed within the right-of-way, staff will remove them,” Haynes said in an email. “If signs are in violation but on private property, we will follow up with the individual candidate and property owners and request that the signs are moved.”

Property owners have 30 days to remove the signs, Haynes said. Juneau’s election is less than two weeks away, so it’s conceivable that property owners will leave the signs up until election day and still remain within their rights. According to the DOT website, most property owners end up removing their signs voluntarily. If they don’t, they can be fined at least $50.

Haynes also said employees have had to speak with some private property owners in recent days about signs that have been posted with the intention of being viewed from the highway, but that DOT can only do so much in those cases.

“Signs placed on private property within the 30 days before an election could be left up until the election with no further action from us, assuming it’s removed immediately after the election,” Haynes said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say they are abiding by the law because it was placed there against the law, but the law also allows for sufficient time for removal.”

Haynes said DOT employees have been removing signs from right-of-ways recently. A right-of-way, by DOT’s definition, is a strip of land that’s reserved for future transportation improvements. It includes the road surface and the area around the roads, sometimes reaching more than 200 feet away from the edge of the pavement.

There isn’t a regular time each day when DOT employees go out on campaign sign duty, Haynes said, as it depends on an employee’s workload and availability.

One sign that has sparked conversation in the community is a large sign for District 2 Assembly candidate Debbie White that stands alongside Egan Drive near the Mendenhall Wetlands Game Refuge. The sign, which was still standing as of early Wednesday afternoon, is on private property but is clearly visible from the highway. A long thread on a community Facebook page featured Juneauites going back and forth about whether the sign should stay up.

White said on the Facebook thread that she emailed Haynes about the sign, saying that she requested it be taken down. White told the Empire on Wednesday that she did not authorize or ask for signs to be placed along DOT-maintained roadways. She said people pick signs up at her office and then put them where they choose.

Haynes said DOT employees will continue to talk with private property owners who put signs up within sight of a state road, and that they will continue to remove signs that are on right-of-ways.

In addition, Statewide Right-of-Way Chief Heather Fair sent an email to all of Juneau’s 10 Assembly and Board of Education candidates Tuesday afternoon to remind them of the rules and regulations regarding political signs. Fair’s email said that the DOT’s Southcoast Regional Office “has received a large volume of reports” of signs along state roads in the region.

Even with this volume of reports, Haynes said this year’s campaign season has gone more smoothly than recent years.

“By far, the best course of action is to be proactive and informing the candidates and public of the laws,” Haynes said. “While I am aware that there is currently non-compliance, this year has been far less of an issue than the last few and I would attribute that to our efforts before and during the campaign season.”

State roads in Juneau

Alaska residents are not allowed to place campaign signs “on, adjacent to or where they may be viewed from state maintained highways and right-of-ways.” State roads in Juneau include the following:

• Egan Drive/Expressway

• Glacier Highway

• Marine Way

• Ferry Way

• Thane Road

• Douglas Highway

• North Douglas Highway

• Mendenhall Loop Road

• Fritz Cove Road

• Mendenhall Peninsula Road

• Engineer’s Cutoff Road


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com.


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