New Laws Take Effect Starting October 1, 2011. Three Month Warning Period Begins This Fall for Illegal Signs; Fines Begin January 2012.
The State Highway Administration (SHA) regulates signs within the right of way and outdoor advertising signs on private property adjacent to State roads, according to Federal and State laws.
These signs include official traffic safety signs and informational signs – all of which are either regulated by State law, or maintained or issued a valid permit by SHA.
Signs placed on State rights-of-way that do not fall under those categories are considered illegal. Beginning October 1, 2011 a new law went into effect making illegal signs subject to removal, and businesses and individuals who place such signs will be fined. For more information on the new law, see below.
What is the new law about unauthorized commercial signs?
Commercial signs placed in state highway right-of-ways have been illegal for decades, but there was little incentive to comply with the law since there were no repercussions. State crews merely removed signs at taxpayer cost. The new law took effect Oct. 1 and makes placing an illegal sign a civil penalty with a $25 fine. There is a warning and educational period between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. After Jan. 1, 2012, violators will be issued $25 fines for each illegally placed sign.
This legislation became law during the 2011 general session. It also allows counties and local municipalities to remove signs from State-maintained rights-of-way and issue the civil penalty.
The sign laws seem very confusing. What do I have to do before I install a sign?
There are two types of signs – a sign for a business on the property on which the sign will be placed (“on premise”) and signs advertising businesses located elsewhere (“off premise”).
Before you install or post an outdoor advertising sign adjacent to an SHA maintained highway, you must first contact your local government office for approval. Counties, towns and cities also have sign regulations and you must obtain a permit from the local government office before receiving SHA approval.
After approval from your local government office, contact the SHA Outdoor Advertising Section for a sign application. SHA will need to approve the sign according to Federal and State regulations, which is essential to ensure safety for the traveling public.
What are “off-premise” signs?
Off-premise signs – which are considered advertising something not sold on the property where the sign is located - require SHA sign permits and must meet other requirements related to size, lighting, zoning, and spacing.
Why do I have to get a permit?
Federal and State regulations require permits to track the number, use, location, spacing and maintenance of signs. It helps SHA to ensure that signs are properly maintained, removed when appropriate, do not clutter highways and are not creating a safety hazard such as obstruction to sight distance.
What is the cost for a State Highway Sign Permit?
Currently fees range from $10 to $35 per sign. All sign permits must be renewed annually and are due on April 30th. Out of state applicants must also obtain a $1,000 surety bond before sign permits are issued.
How long does it take to get an SHA Sign permit?
Permit applications require the signature of the applicant, property owner and local zoning authority. Applicants must also include a comprehensive site plan showing property lines, setbacks from the right of way, proposed location of the sign on the property, State route number and intersecting road, as well as distances from other sign(s) on the property.
Once this information is received by SHA, the permit process takes approximately two weeks. The applicant is responsible for securing all local government approvals and surveys.
Do I need an Outdoor Advertising License as well?
Yes, you need a license if you are in the business of renting, maintaining or installing outdoor advertising signs along State highways. Current SHA license fees range from $50 to $700 and depend on the number of sign structures installed. Out of state applicants must also obtain a $1,000 Surety Bond before the license is issued.
Will I need to display the SHA Sign Permit on my sign?
Yes. SHA will issue a numbered, metal permit tag that must be displayed on the front of the sign and visible from the highway at all times. There is a fee if the tag is lost or stolen. Also, the name and address of the owner must be clearly displayed on the sign at all times.
May I install a sign on my own property (on-premise) without an SHA permit?
Yes, but you must still meet certain conditions. The sign must only advertise activities or products available on the property and it must be within 100 feet of the business activity (such as the edge of the building or parking lot.)
May I place an off-premise outdoor advertising signs next to an Interstate highway or expressway?
No. State laws prohibit any type of off-premise outdoor advertising signs adjacent to Maryland’s Interstate highways or expressways such as I-70, I-95, US 50, etc…)
May I place an off-premise outdoor advertising sign along a designated Scenic Byway?
No. Effective October 1, 2011 new off-premise outdoor advertising signs are prohibited along designated Scenic Byways in Maryland. Be sure to contact SHA for more information.
May I use the flashing lights on my sign?
No. Flashing lights are distracting to motorists and are considered a traffic hazard.
If I receive an invoice, how do I make payment to SHA?
Payments by check or money order can be mailed to one of the addresses below:
State Highway Administration
P.O. Box 1636
Baltimore MD 21203
State Highway Administration
Office of Finance C-504
707 North Calvert Street
Baltimore MD 21202
You may also pay in person at the Cashier’s Office at SHA headquarters during normal business hours. Unsatisfied accounts are submitted to the State of Maryland’s Central Collection Unit.