GORHAM — Campaign signs that were removed from roundabouts on the Rines Bypass were violating state regulations.
The Maine Department of Transportation took down the signs, Town Council Chairman Benjamin Hartwell said last week.
“The issue with the roundabouts is one of public safety, people should be paying attention to the intersection and other cars, not be distracted by the signs in the center,” Hartwell said later in an email.
MDOT regulations prohibit signs in an entrance area of a controlled access highway like Rines Bypass and in centers of all roundabouts. Gorham has five roundabouts including three on the bypass, one in Little Falls and another on New Portland Road.
Gorham Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak said MDOT asked the town for assistance in enforcing the sign rules and in educating candidates on the rules.
Hartwell said MDOT told him they only have one person to remove improperly placed signs and since “they don’t have the manpower to get them everywhere, therefore they appreciate any help we can offer in enforcement.”
By mistake, Gorham employees removed more signs then they were supposed to, Hartwell said.
“They were instructed to remove them from the center of the roundabouts, but they also removed them from the medians leading up to the roundabouts, which is actually an allowed location as long as the medians are 6 feet or wider,” he said.
Paraschak said “since being notified, the candidates have been great in keeping their signs out of these areas.”
MDOT prohibits campaign signs on the Maine interstate system, including the Maine Turnpike, its interchanges and ramps, and control of access roadways.
“We don’t allow any temporary signs of any kind in those areas,” said Meghan Russo, the Maine Department of Transportation’s manager of legislative and constituent services. “Typically these are interstates, interstate ramps, as well as high speed, high traffic areas along traffic corridors in Maine.”
Russo said the state does not have a master list of roadways across the state that are considered control of access highways.
“It is something we are working on, but at this time we handle inquiries on a case-by-case, region-by-region basis,” she said.
In Westbrook, the Westbrook Arterial is considered a control of access highway, Russo said. The majority of the corridor, which connects Exit 47 to William Clarke Drive, is devoid of signs, but there is a cluster on the eastbound side of the road by the Larrabee Road intersection, mostly campaigning for candidates for Cumberland County Commission, U.S Senate, governor and Cumberland County District Attorney. Russo said William Clarke Drive is also a control of access roadway between the Westbrook Arterial to Conant Drive. Larrabee Road is a control of access roadway from its intersection with Westbrook Arterial to its intersection with Riverside Street in Portland.
MDOT can remove signs that pop up in those locations, Russo said. Signs are taken to the closest MDOT maintenance lot, where candidates can recover them. Westbrook City Planner Jennie Francheschi said the city “has no jurisdiction” over political signs. Enforcement is under the realm of the DOT, which takes signs down based on complaints.
“If our crews do find signs in those areas, they take them down and notify me,” she said. “I do my best to reach out to the candidate or the person who put the sign there to tell them where they can pick them up.”
Per state law temporary signs can be displayed for up to 12 weeks each calendar year and must be at least 30 feet away from a sign “bearing the same or substantially the same message.” They must be no larger than 4 feet by 8 feet and must include the name and address of the entity putting up the sign and the date it was put there.
Russo said there is no time table on the books now for campaign signs to be removed, as long as the sign has not been up for more than 12 weeks.
“It is up to the sign owner how to use those 12 weeks,” she said.
Staff Writer Bob Lowell contributed to this story.
Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mkelleynews.
Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or email@example.com.
Political signs are everywhere this time of year, especially on heavily traveled roads, such as William Clarke Drive in Westbrook.
The Bernard P. Rines roundabout at South Street in Gorham is bare of political signs after the Maine Department of Transportation removed them.
Political signs circle this Falmouth roundabout at Route 9 where Middle and Woods roads intersect.
Westbrook Arterial is supposed to be free of campaign signs because it is a control of access highway, but that hasn’t stopped some state and federal campaign signs from popping up by the intersection with Larrabee Road.