Deal struck to preserve some Maine highway signs, force purchase of others

A sign along the Maine Turnpike tells motorists that Exit 75 leads to Lost Valley and Sugarloaf ski areas.
Daryn Slover | Sun Journal
A sign along the Maine Turnpike tells motorists that Exit 75 leads to Lost Valley and Sugarloaf ski areas.
Posted April 03, 2014, at 6:21 p.m.
Last modified April 04, 2014, at 6:15 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s Transportation Committee Thursday unanimously approved a bill that would help align the state’s interstate landscape with federal rules by moving and removing dozens of signs.

The committee also made several changes to the bill in order to allow several signs to stay on the Maine Turnpike or to allow the entities to purchase 3-by-4 logo signs where space allows.

About 19 signs fall into that category, including signs for Scarborough Downs, the Old Port Exchange, Pineland Farms, Shaker Village and the Lewiston Sports Complex.

Signs directing motorists to “Miles of Scenic Beaches,” Hebron Academy and the Saco Hotel and Conference Center would be removed.

Civic centers and auditoriums such as the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, the Augusta Civic Center and the Androscoggin Bank Colisee would not be eligible for a state-sponsored guide sign but would instead have to purchase a logo sign for the facility.

Lawmakers said they were ultimately happy with the result of what’s been a nearly yearlong effort of the Maine Turnpike Authority and the state’s Department of Transportation to put the Maine interstate sign policy on track and avoid annual political battles over who should be allowed a sign on the state’s two interstate highways, Interstate 295 and Interstate 95.

Tweaks to the bill will allow guide signs currently in place for major recreational areas such as Maine’s largest ski areas and also one of its smallest to stay put. One amendment allows Lost Valley in Auburn to keep its sign south of exit 75 on the Maine Turnpike because the resort is within 10 miles of the highway, has a chairlift, at least 10 trails and at least 200 vertical feet of descent.

Bruce Van Note, deputy commissioner at the Department of Transportation, said the bill was truly a team effort between his agency, the Maine Turnpike Authority and the lawmakers on the transportation committee.

“We started this process looking for fair and consistent standards that we could apply that treated entities in similar situations the same way,” Van Note said. “We are pleased we are going to be able to support it knowing we have the support of the Legislature.”

Peter Mills, head of the Maine Turnpike Authority, called the bill a result, “of the Legislature functioning at its best.”

He said his staff spent “days and days” on the policy because the committee had originally directed his agency and Department of Transportation to find a solution to the onslaught of requests that were coming to the Legislature from people seeking interstate signs.

“The direction from the committee last year gave us hope that we could achieve something that has escaped us for decades, and that was a rational sign policy,” Mills said.

Mills also said the policy would help the state keep to its own strict standards banning commercial billboards along the highway. The state is one of only four that have a billboard ban.

Rep. Ann Peoples, D-Westbrook, a long-serving member of the committee, said equally important to the intent of the bill was taking the issue of who gets a sign out of the realm of “political favoritism and put them into the realm of something that agrees with [federal policy].”

The signs that would be moved or removed will be changed over about a five year period under the bill. The bill impacts about 80 signs along the two highways.

The bill will next move to the House of Representatives.

 

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