RAMBLIN' MAN: Blue tourism signs add $700K to CDOT coffers annually

March 1, 2014
photo - Colorado Springs sign is partially blocked by a tourism sign at north end of city's entry off Interstate 25
Colorado Springs sign is partially blocked by a tourism sign at north end of city's entry off Interstate 25 

Bob Muldrow likes the "Welcome to Colorado Springs" sign halfway between North Gate Boulevard and Interquest Parkway on southbound Interstate 25.

He's not so crazy about the sign in front of it.

It's blue and big and "almost hides the nice Welcome to Colorado Springs" sign, he said.

It could be moved, said Bob Wilson, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

He visits the Springs a couple of times a week and said he will take a look at it.

"If it's a situation where it is truly blocking the Colorado Springs sign, we could move it," he said. "But if the angle is just wrong or something like that, we most likely won't move it. But we don't want signs too close to each other because it can lead to distraction."

Road signs aren't all bad, though.

They tell you how fast to go.

They tell you where the hotels and restaurants are. Most important, they tell you where the rest stops are.

That big blue sign in front of the Welcome to Colorado Springs sign advertises a Kum & Go gas station, Hampton Inn & Suites and a Residence Inn.

There's money in it.

These companies paid at least $750 a year to be there.

They're called Tourism Oriented Directional Signs, and 446 are on Colorado interstates and 391 on the ramps.

For short, they're called TODS.

They pump up Colorado Department of Transportation coffers - to the tune of almost $700,000 last year, Wilson said.

According to the program's website, the fee starts at $750 a year per direction and escalates depending on the traffic count. The higher the traffic, the higher the fee.

For instance, signs through metro Denver cost more than signs through much less populated areas such as Trinidad.

But you can't just buy up the space. You have to meet criteria.

For instance, signs are allowed in categories such as services, commercial, cultural, recreational, historical, religious sites, scientific and natural phenomena. And if the intersection where the signs are is within a city limits, the distance from the business to the intersection can't be more than 1 mile. If the intersection is outside the city, the distance is 15 miles.

Mostly they seem to advertise fast-food restaurants and lodging.

In the Springs, there are a lot of fast-food places such as Wendy's, Culver's, McDonald's, Chik-fil-A and Denny's though there is the occasional Panera Bread on I-25 in the north part of Colorado Springs, for the upscale sandwich eater.

Kum & Go and Safeway Fuel seem to dominate the gas stations, while lodging is captured by chains such as Best Western and Courtyard by Marriott. Hotel Elegante has a spot reserved for it.

"It's a year-to-year contract," Wilson said. "When you have a busy interchange like the Garden of the Gods, where there are lots of fast-food restaurants and that kind of thing, they have to rotate every year."

The highest number of advertisers he has seen on a sign is eight.

"There aren't too many because it creates too much visual garbage," Wilson said.

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