by Marc G. Auber
CLARKSBURG -- Political signs posted along roadways can distract motorists, and the signs often strain an undermanned state work force, say state Department of Transportation officials.
So the department urges those who erect signs primarily along four-lane highways to take them down -- or the state will.
According to state code, the highway department has the legal authority to remove the signs, said Barry Warhoftig, director of traffic engineering.
Only signs that are officially designated and sanctioned by the highway department will be allowed on state rights of way, he said.
"They don't benefit the driving task," Warhoftig said. "All of these are distractions."
The state Division of Highways is paying close attention to four-lane roads, said Marvin Murphy, DOH District 4 engineer.
"They're (political signs) just so much more visible," he said. "They're just more of a hazard on a four-lane."
Signs discovered along a highway will be noted, and a DOH supervisor will contact the offending candidate, Murphy said.
If the candidate cannot be contacted or fails to remove the sign, the highway department will collect and store the sign, he said.
Signs may be destroyed if they are not picked up in a reasonable amount of time.
The state is serious about enforcing the policy as much as possible, despite the lack of manpower, Warhoftig said.
There are more than 600 miles of roadways (including within neighboring Lewis, Barbour and Upshur counties) to cover in District 7, said engineer Gary Clayton.
"We'll be tolerant of them along the rights of way of secondary roads, as long as they aren't attached to traffic-control signs," he said.
The idea is much different along four-lane highways.
"We will ask that those be immediately removed," Clayton said.
Illegally erected signs can impair vision, Murphy said. They can also blow into the roadway during adverse weather.
"Not to mention the cost," said Carol Melling, Department of Transportation spokeswoman.
When state-issued markers like stop and speed limit signs are marred with political paraphernalia, they have to be replaced.
"That's cost us thousands of dollars a year during political years," Melling said. "We do everything we can to discourage it."
Within the city of Clarksburg, rules governing the placement of political signs are clear and outlined in fewer than 10 lines.
Among those rules, it is mentioned that signs are permitted if they are temporary and are not lighted, according to the city's planning and zoning code.
Also, signs may not be posted for more than 30 days before an election, day and they must be removed within 10 days after the election.
Candidates have been generally cooperative in Clarksburg, said Annette Wright, city clerk.
"I would just appreciate it if all the candidates would abide by the ordinance," she said.
Staff writer Marc Auber can be reached at 626-1437 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org