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State group clears way for additional business on blue traveler-info panels

By Bob Mercer

Capitol Correspondent

PIERRE — The state Transportation Commission adopted rules Thursday to allow potentially hundreds of additional businesses to place logos on the blue traveler-information signs along South Dakota’s interstates and state highways.

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Attractions were added by the Legislature last winter. Gas, food, lodging and camping were already allowed. Legislators defined an attraction as a business of regional significance with the primary purpose of providing amusement, historical, cultural or leisure activity to the public.

The commission kept the existing regulations providing that logos for no more than six businesses are allowed on each sign panel and no more than four sign panels are allowed in the right of way prior to a highway intersection or an interstate ramp.

The commission also approved limits on the number of supplemental panels along an approach or ramp. When there are more requests than space, the state Department of Transportation will give priority to businesses in the order of gas, food, lodging, camping and attractions. A sign panel can have more than one of the five categories. Within a category the space will be allotted by shortest driving distances.

“Proximity will be the final arbiter,” said Commissioner Donald Roby, of Watertown.

The rules have been loosened in some respects. Businesses will need to be open five days per week rather than six and seasonal businesses can be open any four consecutive months rather than only summer months.

All logos will need to be reflector signs, which isn’t currently the case. The spaces come up for renewal annually. Historical, cultural and amusement attractions must be open to all ages under the new rules. That means some businesses by their nature such as adults-only would be excluded.

“The definition of art is blurry sometimes,” DOT’s Jason Humphrey said.

Next stop for the proposed regulations is the Legislature’s rules review committee. That panel’s next scheduled meeting is Nov. 12.

The legislation, SB 174, was sponsored by Sen. Larry Tidemann, R-Brookings, and Rep. Spencer Hawley, D-Brookings. The Schade vineyard and winery is located outside Volga in the Brookings area.

Winery operators had previously attempted to convince the commission their businesses should be eligible to be on the signs.

The legislation won nearly unanimous approval of 68-1 in the House and 32-1 in the Senate.