Rhode Island DOT to charge businesses for new highway signs

STATE SEN. Leonidas Raptakis, D-Coventry, is sharply critical of a state plan to charge businesses for placing their logos on highway signs.
Posted 11/10/10

(Updated, 1:30 p.m.)

PROVIDENCE – Businesses looking to add their logos to the blue informational signs that dot the state’s highways will need to pay starting next year. But companies with logos already in place will not, following a vote by the State Traffic Commission.

The commission Wednesday voted down a proposal from the R.I. Department of Transportation to charge businesses with logos $300 a year for each sign and increase that amount incrementally until reaching $1,200 annually by 2017.

But the commission let stand a policy adopted last summer that will implement a $1,200 annual fee for businesses that add their logos after Jan. 1, a DOT spokeswoman told Providence Business News.

R.I. Sen. Leonidas Raptakis, D-Coventry, who attended the meeting, complained the policy would discourage small businesses from advertising on the highways. That, he said, would hurt their bottom lines and the state, which collects taxes on their sales.

“It’s terrible. It’s crazy,” said Raptakis, whose Coventry business Venus Pizza appears on the signs. “It’s state government putting their hands where they don’t belong.”

Nevertheless, the fees may never become a reality, said Raptakis noting the commission appeared sympathetic to business owners who showed up to oppose the plan. He also observed that the commission may try to roll back the fees when it meets again in December.

But he was sharply critical of DOT for even proposing the plan, which on Wednesday included charging businesses with existing logos.

“How do you promote tourism in the state now that you want to charge businesses?” Raptakis said. “It’s absolutely nonsense.”

In an e-mail to Raptakis, Robert Rocchio, the DOT’s managing engineer, said the DOT planned to use the fees to administer the sign program and replace damaged or aging signs.

Raptakis charged that businesses already paid for the signs and insurance would cover a sign damaged by a vehicle. He also said maintaining the signs would not cost the amount of money the DOT would collect.

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