WashDOT kicks campaign signs off state-owned grass patch

Each year, campaign signs have sprouted like dandelions on a small grassy swath along the north edge of Vancouver.

Now, for the first time in recent memory, the wedge-shaped property between Interstate 5 and Highway 99 is virtually sign-free despite its prime location for catching the attention of thousands of would-be voters.

What gives?

The Washington Department of Transportation cleared about three dozen signs from the slope, following the primary election in August.

“Historically, that’s been a place that’s had signs,” said Bart Gernhart, the DOT’s acting regional administrator, “and it’s grown and grown and grown.”

Until recently, the state left it alone.

That changed after the DOT recently negotiated a property swap involving the Bonneville Power Administration’s nearby Ross Complex. During the course of those negotiations, Gernhart said, the DOT realized that the campaign-heavy swath between I-5 and Highway 99 actually fell within the state’s ownership — and therefore must be a sign-free zone.

Gernhart said highway workers first tried to alert campaign organizations, then gave 10 days’ notice that the signs were coming down. He said the campaigns had no beef with the DOT’s position.

“Since we own it, we need to enforce the law,” he said. “No one had anything to say about it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an ‘R’ or ‘D’ or independent, or it’s an initiative or referendum. All the signs are going.”

Gernhart said the same thing happened on a newly acquired piece of DOT right-of-way along state Highway 500 near St. Johns Road. In removing the signs, he said, the DOT wants to make sure that drivers whizzing past at 60 mph stay focused on the highway rather than campaign signs.

“It’s a public safety issue for us,” he said.

Erik Robinson

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