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CDOT promo signs proliferate

The Village Smithy has an advertising sign on highway 82 near Cathrine's Store. Aspen TImes photo/Devon Meyers.
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Consider it a sign of the (commercialized) times.The Colorado Department of Transportation is allowing an increasing number of signs on Highway 82 designed to promote businesses that are supposed to be geared toward tourists.But the state agency and its private sector partner that runs the program appear to be making liberal decisions on who qualifies.Although billboards are strictly prohibited, the number of smaller advertisements is proliferating.The heart of the controversy is CDOT’s Tourist-Oriented Directional Signing program. It’s designed to give businesses along highways in rural Colorado a little boost. For $250 per year, the businesses can get their company name on a sign that’s about 5 feet long and a foot or so deep.Every traveler is accustomed to seeing the blue signs with white lettering along the roadways. They typically promote restaurants, gas stations and motels. In the Basalt area, for example, signs promote businesses like The Green Drake Motel, the Aspenalt Lodge and Subway. In Carbondale, the Days Inn and Red Rock Diner are among businesses that have tapped into the program.

The signs often promote shops that clearly depend on tourists, like the Taylor Creek Fly Shop and Frying Pan Anglers, outfitters that sell fishing equipment and guide services in Basalt.The criteria is relatively simple, according to Brian Sauber, general manager of a Lakewood firm called Colorado Logos Inc. that has the state contract to administer the program. Businesses contact Colorado Logos, which checks to make sure each business receives at least 50 percent of its income from outside a 50-mile radius, Sauber said.When businesses qualify, Colorado Logos works with CDOT to place the signs in safe, appropriate places, Sauber said. It is unclear if CDOT reviews Colorado Logos’ approval of the businesses.Sauber claimed his office is selective. “We get approached by a lot more businesses than get approved,” he said.But it is also clear that Colorado Logos’ benefits from getting large numbers of businesses in the program – so there isn’t incentive to be picky.Rules that seem to be clear cut appear to be getting blurred in the Roaring Fork Valley. For example, certain business districts are now using the program. One midvalley sign directs tourists to “Basalt Historic Downtown.” While that might be legitimate, other “tourist” signs advertise the Mid Valley Business Center and Mid Valley Design Center, both off Willits Lane.

The lines get blurred even further when signs promote businesses that don’t seem like typical tourist attractions. On Highway 82 just before the eastbound and westbound intersections with Highway 133, signs alert tourists that “Mr. Transmission” is located in Carbondale as well as Buggy Works, a carwash.On the Basalt Bypass of Highway 82, tourist-oriented directional signs point to Isberian Rug Company as well as Mountain Homefitters and Foreign Accents, home furnishing stores.Sauber said businesses that might not appear tourist-oriented often qualify for the program, once his firm looks at their books. “In that area they get a lot of people who are tourists,” he said.A business owner that has one of the signs on the highway, who asked not to be identified by name, said tourists have stopped who said they saw the sign. The business owner acknowledged there is a delicate balance between advertising and proliferating the highway.”I can see how the average traveler is saying, ‘Good lord, they are sprouting,'” the source said about signs. However, the business owner also noted that no alternatives exist for worthwhile signs in Basalt.Stacey Stegman, a spokeswoman for CDOT, said the agency follows federal guidelines for its tourist-oriented directional sign program. “It’s not like Colorado is being more lax than other states,” she said regarding business eligibility.

Specific guidelines aren’t designed for specific areas like the Roaring Fork Valley, Stegman said. The rules for Colorado highways are uniform.The agency feels a responsibility “to some degree” to assist businesses in rural areas of the state, Stegman added. In the case of some of the signs along Highway 82, CDOT might have to check to make sure they are truly eligible, she said.While it appears that the valley might be ripe for an unlimited number of signs based on the criteria used by CDOT and Colorado Logos, there are actually limits, Stegman said. Signs are allowed only in specific locations, like the intersection of highways 82 and 133, and Highway 82 and Midland Avenue. They aren’t allowed in more rural areas. So there are a finite number of slots open on a first-come, first-served basis, she said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.


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