State updates clear zone legislation

The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) is cracking down on illegal signs placed in the medians and rights-of-way of the state’s roads under a revised version of the existing “Clear Zone” law.

DelDOT Secretary Nathan Hayward III noted in an October letter addressed to all Delaware citizens that the original law — now more than eight years old — was intended to enhance highway safety by prohibiting all non-official signage placed in the medians (the “Clear Zone”) and close to the shoulders of state highways and roads.

Despite that law, Hayward said, the state has seen an increasing number of signs turning up along the roadways, costing the department more than $400,000 in 2004 to collect and dispense with some 36,000 illegal signs.

With DelDOT already in a financial crunch, the governor and General Assembly moved in June to try to reduce that expense through a more streamlined approach to removing the signs, Hayward said. Under the new legislation, which went into affect Nov. 1:

• DelDOT may now immediately remove any illegal sign on a utility pole or anywhere else in the state’s right-of-way, instead of issuing a written warning and observing a 30-day waiting period. (Signs in the Clear Zone will still be immediately removed.)

• DelDOT’s enforcement authority for the Clear Zone law now extends inside municipal boundaries on those state roads and is no longer curtailed at town and city borders.

• Owners of illegal signs removed by the state are now subject to a $25-per-sign fine. Violators will receive a written notice and DelDOT will use a two-person crew to ensure objective enforcement and collection of evidence (including digital photographs). Sign owners who wish to reclaim their signs will have to pay a $15-per-sign recovery fee.

One exception to the law pertains to election signs, which are allowed to be placed by candidates and all other sign owners in the areas within the state right-of-way (but not in the Clear Zone) during the 30 days prior to the election. Those signs must pertain to an election being contested within that jurisdiction.