BRATTLEBORO - Shortly after they were installed this week, town officials were ordered by the state to remove two "Welcome to Brattleboro, Vermont" signs that were put up near Exits 1 and 2 of I-91.
The signs were paid for with money from the Vermont Downtown Program, through a Building a Better Brattleboro plan, and erected by Department of Public Works staff.
But the signs were placed in state rights of way and are not allowed under state statute.
Agency of Transportation staff told the town the signs had to be removed after receiving complaints that the signs were obscuring the vision of drivers.
"The state says that no sign can be put in a state right of way and we are charged with enforcing statute," said Marc Pickering, VTrans District Two technician. "The statute is very clear. There are some exemptions, but welcome signs are not one of them. We got a complaint and we followed it up."
Brattleboro Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said the Selectboard approved a grant application for the sign program in 2011 with the understanding that the town would match the grant funds with the in-kind work.
There has been a welcome sign in the same spot since at least 1991, Gartenstein said, and the town was surprised to find out that welcome signs, of any size, are not allowed in state rights of way.
"The sign was placed in the same location that has had a sign for at least 22 years," he said. "Only when the new signs were installed were we told by VTrans that they were not supposed to be there. Discussions are now under way with VTrans to find out where we can put them."
"The town was surprised to learn that VTrans does not permit welcome signs of any variety within the state right of way," said Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland. "The town will work closely with VTrans and with BABB to identify and potentially relocate the welcome signs."
According to Building a Better Brattleboro Vice President Kate O'Connor, the two welcome signs were part of a comprehensive sign program that includes new parking signs that will be put around town and directional signs that lead visitors to downtown.
O'Connor saw the welcome signs at the DPW garage last week but did not get to see them in their planned locations near the Interstate exits.
"I saw them on the ground and they looked really nice," she said. "This has been in the works for a while but I get it. We'll have to find a place where they can go up."
Windham Regional Commission Senior Planner Matt Mann said it is important that states have standard sign sizes, colors, designs and regulations.
For states to receive federal transportation dollars, signs and sign placement must adhere to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a document issued by the Federal Highway Administration to ensure that a yellow sign with bear on it means the same thing in Montana that it does in Vermont.
"It's a safety issue," Mann said. "If you are going from Nebraska to Vermont, it would get very confusing if every state had its own signs. Anything in a state right of way has to conform to that manual."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.