Fairfax County now has the authority to clean up illegal signs placed on roadway medians thanks to an agreement with the Virginia Department of Transportation.
This week, the Board of Supervisors approved an agreement that has been in the works for months allowing the county to clear signs from public rights-of-way and issue fines to residents who post them.
The program, which supervisors signed off on in an 8-2 vote, will cost the county $150,000. Non-violent prisoners on the Sheriff’s Office Community Labor Force will perform cleanup duties four days a week, Tuesday through Friday, starting later this year.
Putting up signs on any state road is illegal, including advertisements and – especially – political signs, which all but took over county medians in 2011. The law does allow some signs, such as signs at the intersections of two or more roads giving the distance or direction to a church, residence, or place of business and signs advertising or providing directions to a “special event.” Such signs will be allowed to stay up from Saturday through Monday.
About 16 residents spoke during a 2.5-hour public hearing before the Board approved the agreement, and opinions were split.
Many residents praised the program, excited about the prospect of cleaner roadways in their communities.
“We believe that these initiatives will result in a dramatic reduction in cost and a dramatic improvement in the beautification in our area,” said Nancy Vorona, a representative of the Baileys Crossroads Revitalization Corps. “We, who are so concerned with revitalization … believe it will help us attract investors and dramatically improve.”
Other residents wanted to see the agreement go one step further and deal with what they saw as rampant litter problems.
“The Mason District is pretty much drowning in litter,” said Molly Loeffler, speaking on behalf of the Mason District Council of Community Associations. “The signs are just adding to it. I can’t even drive to the grocery store without seeing litter every few feet.”
Some residents were opposed to the agreement altogether, saying the current law was perfectly fine and that the state should do a better job of enforcement.
“Please do not waste our money,” said Philip Doherty, a Burke resident well-versed in the county’s illegal sign problems. “Spend the money on something else. Let volunteers do the work. Keep Fairfax County clean.”
Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully) voted against the agreement for similar reasons. After hearing the opinions of county residents, Frey thought the budget for the program would only increase in the future.
“I will not take the state off the hook,” he said. “I would argue that this is just the start. This may be $150,000 today, but it won’t be next year.”
Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) worried that residents would lose out on important events like little-league registration and school plays.
“My concern is that we’re using a hammer instead of a scalpel and there’s a lot of collateral damage,” Cook said. “There will be kids who will not learn about sports, and they will not be able to play.”
Supervisor Pat Herrity, who has championed the illegal sign issue for quite some time, argued that if the program was implemented, the budget could be reduced after it was made more efficient.
“I think it’s a critical next step. It is a safety issue,” he said. “I hope we reevaluate next year. I think if we get the word out and get it done we can look at changing that investment the next time.”