What others say: Roadside political signs often violate state law

The familiar signs beginning to appear along local roads are a dead giveaway: Campaign season is here. It’s been a busy year for campaigning already on the national level, with presidential politics already bringing candidates’ ads to the local airwaves and residents’ yards. But while it will be some months before any national political attention returns to Alaska for the general election, statewide campaigns for other offices are just beginning to ramp up. In practical terms, that means more signs along the roadway, many of which are illegal under Alaska law. And while such signs have always been an issue, that doesn’t make them less in violation of the law. Candidates and their supporters should take care to abide by the rules as a gesture of their willingness to follow the law while in office.

Alaska’s law on roadside signs is among the more restrictive state policies on the matter across the U.S. It states that all manner of advertising signage, whether political or business-related, must be at least 660 feet from state highways and rights of way. The “highway” classification extends further than you might think, encompassing not only highways named as such, like the Parks, Glenn, Dalton, Steese and Alaska highways, but also other major routes maintained by the state, such as the Johansen Expressway and Chena Hot Springs Road.

Enforcement is a trickier matter. For state roads, enforcement is the responsibility of the Department of Transportation, with a handful of caveats. Most importantly, sign enforcement isn’t an issue to which the department voluntarily devotes resources. That’s understandable given the necessity of handling larger matters such as road maintenance and upgrades on a budget facing extreme pressure. That means the department tends to only respond to signs about which they receive complaints, which is an incomplete but more cost-effective solution.

Even that level of enforcement, however, is subject to restriction. Officials must notify a property owner 30 days in advance of the removal of an illegal sign, a requirement that means most offending signs are never removed at all. The only circumstance in which DOT officials can remove signs immediately is when they’re located in the right of way, the roadway or other public property.

Existing state and local law isn’t overly burdensome to residents’ ability to express their political preferences or affiliations. Local borough code provides for the display of political signs on one’s own property so long as it complies with state law and doesn’t obstruct the view of pedestrians or motorists, so a typical 1-foot-by-2-foot yard sign shouldn’t be an issue unless you live directly on a highway.

Yet on a drive across town during political campaign season, an Interior resident is virtually guaranteed to go by one or more illegal campaign signs directly adjacent to the roadway, often in the right-of-way or on the shoulder or sidewalk. Given that state resources to combat the problem are minimal, candidates and their supporters should be proactive in placing signs in accordance with the law — or, failing that, moving them to a legal location when apprised of their illegal status. While political speech is an important and protected part of American civic discourse, starting out one’s campaign for public office by flouting a state law isn’t appropriate. And while removing the signs in a timely manner once an election is over isn’t addressed by law, doing so is a gesture that will keep your neighbors happy.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

May 3

More in Opinion

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Honoring the fallen on Memorial Day

As we honor the men and women who fell in service to our nation, we must keep their memories alive through their stories

Shana Loshbaugh (Courtesy photo)
History conference seeking input from peninsula people

The Alaska Historical Society will hold its annual conference on the central peninsula this fall

Coach Dan Gensel (left) prepares to get his ear pierced to celebrate Soldotna High School’s first team-sport state championship on Friday, Febr. 12, 1993 in Soldotna, Alaska. Gensel, who led the Soldotna High School girls basketball team to victory, had promised his team earlier in the season that he would get his ear pierced if they won the state title. (Rusty Swan/Peninsula Clarion)
Remembering my friend, Dan Gensel

It’s a friendship that’s both fixed in time and eternal

(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The false gods in America’s gun culture

HB 61 is a solution in search of a problem.

KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland
Reflecting on a year of growth and resilience

A message from the superintendent

Jim Cockrell, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. (Courtesy photo/Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)
Honoring the 69 peace officers who have died serving Alaskans

Alaska Peace Officer Memorial Day honors the brave men and women who have given their lives in the line of duty

Rep. Maxine Dibert (Image via Alaska State Legislature)
Opinion: The economic case for a significant investment in education

As our oil production and related revenue have declined, our investments in education have remained flat

Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion
Smoke from the Swan Lake Fire impairs visibility on the Sterling Highway on Aug. 20, 2019.
Don’t let the abundance of snow fool you; Alaskans should prepare for wildfire season

Last summer’s 590 wildfires burned more than 3.1 million acres in Alaska, about 41% of the total acreage burned in the U.S.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
Former Gov. Frank Murkowski in May 2019.
Opinion: Statewide sales tax just doesn’t make ‘horse sense’

Money for the dividend was meant to be sized after State government services obligations had been met

The Alaska State Capitol. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Point of View: Big steps to strengthen child care system

Funding in the budget, statutory reforms and support from the administration are all necessary to strengthen the child care system in Alaska

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a news conference in which options for a long-range fiscal plan were discussed. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Tax talk should be paired with PFD pragmatism

Alaska is 30 years into state budget deficits, borrowing billions from savings to pay the bills.

Opinion: Seafood Producers Cooperative responds to WFC ruling

“I want to convey our great disappointment…”