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Wrong signs in the right of way

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The removal of church directional signs from Illinois Route 26 in Princeton during the summer is not part of a targeted effort to take church signs out of the public view, according to Deputy Director of Highways, Region 2, Paul Loete, who is an engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

“There wasn’t any particular effort to go across districtwide and look for signs,” Loete said.

“The signs were removed because they were found to be placed inside the state road right of way,” Loete added. “Signs or features within the right of way have to have authorization from the department. If we allowed anybody to place miscellaneous signs, we would lose control quickly. There are certain guidelines that have to be followed.”

Concern about the removal of church directional signs was first raised publicly by the Rev. Fr. Kyrill Esposito OSB of St. Jude’s Anglican Church in Princeton, who wrote a letter to the editor published in the Bureau County Republican last month. In the letter, Esposito said local churches were notified via letters from the Illinois Department of Transportation that their signs had to be removed. The letter said the church signs were in violation of the “Department’s Traffic Generator Policy and per manual guidelines in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices by the Federal Highway Administration.”

In response to Esposito’s concerns, Bruce Hucker, district operations engineer for IDOT, District 3, said the signs were removed because they were in violation of the Billboard and Advertising Act. Hucker added the signs were not removed because of citizens’ complaints.

“This comes up from time to time in the course of the work of our maintenance crews where find they illegally-placed signs,” Loete said.

“Over the years, signs of that type have been put on the right of way, and there has been a push to better clean up the right of way to get rid of signs that don’t conform to policy,” Hucker said. “We don’t necessarily go out and hunt these signs down. It’s usually as we have time and see them.”

Hucker noted he is not aware of signs by businesses or other entities that were found to be in violation of signage regulations during the route inspection that triggered the church sign removals along State Route 26.

“After removing the offending sign,s IDOT personnel typically store signs in the local maintenance yard,” Loete said.

Hucker said IDOT commonly receives complaints following reception of letters to remove signs by those involved in the offense. He said other churches in other locales have received similar letters.

“We typically try to work with organizations to allow them to put up signs that meet our guidelines on state right of ways or on a side street,” Loete said.

The Billboard and Advertising Act was the result of an initiative led by Lady Bird Johnson in the 1960s to beautify highways. The purpose of the act was to remove signage clutter along state and federal highways.

Excessive and inappropriate signage can also be a safety hazard as it can distract drivers, Hucker said.

Hucker said the code applicable to advertising and billboards is available online at www.dot.il.gov/landacq/billboards.html.

“Churches can apply for permits through our central bureau of land acquisition in Springfield if they meet certain requirements, but not on the state right of way, as they pertain to the billboard act,” Hucker said. He added that he is aware of one church that has applied for such a permit.

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