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Road sign damage adds up
Governments want offenders to pay for replacements
Replacing signs like these along Old Pendergrass Road in Jefferson can be a costly endeavor for local governments and offenders who damage the signs. - photo by BRANDEE A. THOMAS

The next time you speed off the highway and just barely miss hitting the sign displaying the exit information, you may want to consider slowing down a bit more.

Besides being a safety hazard, speeding also can cause you to hit one or more road signs, which could not only endanger your safety, it could also put your wallet in jeopardy.

"If we can find out who damaged a sign, we bill that person not only for the cost of the sign, but also for the cost of labor and equipment needed to install a new one," said Teri Pope, communications officer for District One of the Georgia Department of Transportation, which includes Hall and Jackson counties.

"In (fiscal year 2008), we collected more than $200,000 in state property damage claims," Pope said.

The cost of replacing a road sign on a state road can vary depending on the size and type of sign. For instance, a yield sign on a state road costs $28.59 for just the sign, while a exit sign on the interstate costs $226.72. In addition to the costs for the sign itself, costs for the pole and support structures must also be added in, which adds an additional $20.51.

"We are on call 24 hours a day to replace damaged or stolen signs," Pope said. "It’s a safety hazard if those signs are down. For instance, if a sign is missing from one side of a four-way stop, that’s a pretty big deal safety wise."

Having to replace damaged or stolen road signs is not only a problem that the state government has to contend with, it also is an issue for local governments.

"We have problems all over the city with people removing or damaging signs," said Joe Savage, Jefferson street maintenance division superintendent. "There are some street name signs that are constantly being removed."

Willfully damaging or removing a street sign is the same thing as tampering with government property, Savage said, and such an offense can be punishable by fines or even jail time.

When an offender can not be identified, having to replace downed or damaged street signs can add up.

According to Dee Taylor, the Gainesville City traffic engineer, replacing the different types of street signs within the city limits can cost from $150 to $250.

"We average 20 to 25 incidents per year for downed, damaged or vandalized street signs," Taylor said. "We mount our signs pretty high and use vandal-proof bolts and brackets and thicker aluminum posts that make it harder to shimmy up the pole and bend it, but that’s not a 100 percent guarantee that our signs are safe. If something is put up by humans, then it can also be taken down by humans."