If you’ve traveled on an interstate, you’ve no doubt noticed an abundance of helpful blue signs pointing out things interesting to a motorist: food, lodging/camping, fuel, and major attractions.
In my recent odyssey around the western US, I noticed many of these signs and was curious how one gets them, how much they cost, rules, etc.
Because the signs are officially “traffic control devices,” they’re controlled by the federal and state highway laws. This means there are particulars governing placement, size, and content. In general:
The businesses must be located within three miles of the exit, with some exceptions. The businesses must comply with all applicable laws concerning the provision of public accommodations without regard to race, religion, color, age, sex, or national origin. Fuel services must be appropriately licensed, have a restroom, and operate at least 12 hours per day, seven days a week, year-round. Food services must be appropriately licensed, and provide three meals a day (unless a breakfast waiver is signed), and a public telephone. Lodging services must be appropriately licensed, have at least ten units (B&Bs exempt), and a public telephone.
Camping services must be appropriately licensed (if applicable), provide adequate parking accommodations, a public telephone, and agree to seasonal removal/masking of logo signs (if applicable).
Tourist Attractions must qualify as one of the following: a natural phenomena, historic site, cultural site, scientific site, accredited college or university, religious site, area of natural beauty, or area suited for outdoor recreation
The big blue signs with corporate logos you see on the interstate are called Interstate Logo Boards, and let you know that a facility (fuel, food, lodging, camping, tourist attraction) is accessible if you take that exit. The signs are limited to six logos on the theory that motorists whizzing by can only comprehend that much information. When one participant drops out, another may participate.
The space for a sign on the interstate logo board costs about $900/year, but varies by state and location within state. For example, Oregon charges $400/year for signs on I-5, and less for signs on less frequented areas. This is for one direction only, e.g., a business will probably want signs for east and west I-90.
Trailblazing signs are used when a business is not located at a freeway intersection. For example, when I was driving back through Oregon, the services in the town of Kaizer were located about a mile and a half off the freeway. This is a case where you’ll want to have signs so motorists don’t get discouraged and continue on to the next town.
Costs for the trailblazing sign space averages about $400/year. For less popular routes, this can be as low as $200/year.
The sign cost is in addition to the rent. I’ve found they run about $300, depending on the quantity, complexity and number of colors.
The appeal to business is obvious — these signs direct motorists to their businesses, sign placement is right where motorists are looking, and this is an inexpensive alternative to billboards.
For comparison, a billboard costs about $1,000 a month (three month minimum) for the space visible from the highway. Costs will increase or decrease depending on demand. A billboard in Times Square could run upwards of $100,000, whereas a sign outside of Fernley, NV, would be substantially less. When I worked at Oracle, Sybase rented out the billboard on US 101 just outside of Oracle’s headquarters, allegedly for $20,000 a month. (Other Bay Area Billboard stories)
Production fees for the graphics are approximately $2.00 per square foot, or about $1,344 for a standard 14′ x 48′ billboard.