A Fort Washington community group said it plans to do its part to attract more quality development to Prince George’s County by cleaning up roadsides.
Members of the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council, a coalition of southern Prince George’s community groups, said they have begun alerting state officials about illegally placed signs along state roads, which they said are distracting to drivers and contribute to blight.
Sarah Cavitt, chairwoman of the council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee, which is leading the effort, said the group wants to focus on signs often put up by gas stations and realtors particularly on the weekends.
“They look tacky,” Cavitt said. “They blow down in the wind and the weather, and then we have to pick up the trash, because the people who put them up don’t pick them up again.”
Cavitt said the group will make note of where signs are starting at the north end of Indian Head Highway, a state road with a mix of commercial and residential developments, and report their locations to the State Highway Administration, which maintains the road.
While much attention is paid to signs in residential areas, Cavitt said government agencies should actually prioritize cleaning up commercial and industrial areas.
“In residential areas, [developers] just count rooftops,” Cavitt said. “...They don’t drive around residential areas and see how nice it is as much as they drive straight to the industrial zones and commercial zones where they’d put their business.”
SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar stressed that all private signs placed on state rights of way, which he described as anywhere between the utility poles on either side of a state road, are illegal, and punishable by a $25 fine per sign for businesses.
“Nothing is allowed on our right of way except for the stuff we put there for traffic control,” Gischlar said. “Pragmatically speaking, you’re creating a distraction for drivers, and you’re impeding our maintenance staff. If a sign is embedded or overgrown, it becomes a flying projectile hazard [when we cut the grass].”
Gischlar said SHA crews regularly clear illegal signs from roadways as they do routine maintenance, but they also clear signs by resident request, usually within two to three business days. Although there are crews assigned to do maintenance on Indian Head Highway daily, since they also do mowing, litter and graffiti removal and clearing of drainage ditches, collecting signs is sometimes not done daily, he said.
Residents can call SHA with sign complaints or submit a trackable online service ticket at roads.maryland.gov, under “Contact Us.”
Gischlar said that on Monday alone, crews cleared 250 to 300 signs, mostly political, from Indian Head Highway, Berry Road in Accokeek and St. Barnabas Road in Oxon Hill.
Mike Graziano, director of government affairs for the Prince George’s County Association of Realtors, said that although signs on state roads are illegal, county law allows for Realtors’ “open house directional signs” along county roads from 5 p.m. Friday through 5 p.m. Sunday. He said that despite the increased use of the Internet to shop for homes and apartments, roadside signs still attract clients.
“Even if people have it on the Internet and [are] using MapQuest, to have that directional sign at the intersection leading into the subdivision helps [Realtors] steer their client base,” Graziano said. “But we have no sympathy for the violations ... and we certainly don’t encourage our members to go outside the law.”