AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would relocate or remove dozens of signs advertising schools, beaches, ski slopes and other attractions from Maine’s interstate highways is headed to Gov. Paul LePage after receiving final approval in the Senate on Tuesday.
The bill, LD 1831, protects an estimated $170 million in federal highway funds by bringing the state in line with federal regulations on signs placed along the Maine Turnpike, Interstate 95 and Interstate 295.
The Senate voted 20-15 to enact the bill. The House enacted the bill without a roll call on Monday. The bill heads to the governor who can veto, sign it or let it go into law without his signature.
The law would result in about 90 signs removed, relocated closer to the exits leading to the location advertised, or replaced with smaller signs that fall within the bounds allowed by federal rules.
The bill was the subject of intense political lobbying by schools, businesses and others that have signs, as well as lawmakers seeking to protect their sign-owning constituents. As a result, exceptions were carved out for a handful of ski areas, but most signs would be affected by the new law.
For example, 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.
Supporters of the bill say that it would not only protect valuable federal highway funds for Maine, but it would take the sign-approval process out of the political realm by establishing a regulatory process by which new signs could be placed along the highways. Lawmakers decide, on a case-by-case basis, every time a business or other group wants to put a sign on the Interstate.
The bill was the subject of limited debate in the Senate. Sen. Ron Collins, R-Wells, the lone Republican senator on the Transportation Committee, opposed the measure. Collins had earlier floated an amendment to grandfather all existing signs, but his plan was shot down. He said his opposition was simple.
“If we vote it down, everything stays the same,” he said. “We have some signs that have been in place on the I-95 corridor for well over 12 years. If everything stays the same, the signs remain up.”
Sen. Linda Valentino, D-York, the senate chairwoman of the Transportation Committee, said the bill was “extremely fair.”
“This is a five-year plan,” she said. “No signs are coming down tomorrow morning.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.