(MCT) — Those familiar blue signs with names of local motels and attractions that motorists see on Illinois interstates could soon appear on some tollways too.
Illinois Tollway officials are considering a proposal to erect signs for lodging and certain attractions at 20 rural interchanges on three of the system's tollways.
Tollway officials say they are trying to balance the signs' benefits for motorists against creating "sign clutter" that may cause distractions.
Posting information about local tourism attractions and where to stay will be helpful to customers, but it also will promote economic development among local businesses, Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.
"We continue to seek additional opportunities to strengthen our neighbors along the tollway system," she said.
In addition, the signs would be "a unique opportunity for many local businesses to advertise on our roadways," said board member Tom Weisner, chairman of the tollway committee that's weighing the new policy.
Plans call for businesses to pay an initial fee of $2,000, primarily to cover the cost of the signs, and then $950 a year, officials said.
According to the tollway, the new policy would expand a pilot program that started in 2007. Under that program, lodging-only signs were placed at five interchanges along the Jane Addams Tollway (Interstate 90) near Elgin and Rockford. Eighteen businesses are participating.
Federal regulations prohibit such signs from interstates in urban areas. In recent years, the tollway has cited these rules in rejecting pleas from hotels in the south suburbs to add lodging signs along the Tri-State Tollway (I-294).
The new signs would be located at four locations on the Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355) between 127th Street and U.S. Highway 6; eight places on the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) between Orchard Road and U.S. Highway 30; and eight spots on I-90 between Randall and Rockton roads.
In addition to signs for lodging, postings for local tourism attractions like amusement parks, shopping areas and museums would be permitted.
The blue signs differ from ones that refer to "recreational and cultural interest" sites and points of interest. Those signs are brown.
Larger advertising billboards that have proliferated along some tollways are on private property.
The tollway does not want to detract from businesses that lease space at tollway oases, so the agency doesn't plan to accept signs for restaurants or gas stations, or many other commercial ventures.
The Illinois Department of Transportation charges $200 a year for primary signs on interstates, and less for smaller ones on ramps. As of July, interstate signs generated about $1.1 million in annual fees, IDOT spokesman Mike Claffey said.
Tollway officials said they are seeking public comment on the policy and would consider revising the proposed fees.
"We're putting it out there to see what our customers and any local businesses think," tollway spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said.
The tollway posted the policy on its website, illinoistollway.com, and is accepting comments until Nov. 7. The agency is scheduled to again discuss the policy Dec. 12.