Signs on the Right of Way: Right vs Wrong

Pressure is constant to liberalize longstanding restrictions against commercial use of highway right of way, as government looks for new ways to fund transportation. Debate about the future use of public right of way begs the question: what is allowed under current rules?

Attorney Hunter Odom (Louisiana State University Law, 2017) researched this question for OAAA.

The GEICO Gecko can appear on highway sign, but ads are not allowed. If this is confusing, a new report will explain.

The right of way guide:

  • Defines right of way
  • Explains federal and state authority to control right of way
  • De-mystifies the thick, complicated Manual that sets sign standards
  • Lists what signs are allowed . . . and why (LOGO signs are exits, Tourist Oriented Directional Signs, and sponsorship signs)

Under current rules, advertising is not allowed on public right of way. The policy rationale is that right of way was acquired with public funds for a public purpose; advertising is considered a commercial purpose.

Debate about what constitutes public purpose will continue and even intensify. Proponents of relaxing current rules claim that monetizing the right of way to help pay for transportation would enhance “public purpose.”

This report does not resolve this debate, nor take sides. It lays out the history of regulation of the right of way, and describes the rules as they are now.