Off their radar

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Four years ago, in the wilds of 2009, the provincial government was full of resolve: unregulated highway advertising signs would come down — they’d be cut down if necessary — and replaced with something known as tourist-oriented directional signs, or TODS.

It was supposedly a great leap forwards into international signage standardization.

“Following a review of the province’s current highway signage policy and regulations, we found our system is no longer serving its two primary purposes — to provide clear directional and essential service information to the travelling public, and to effectively promote Newfoundland and Labrador’s tourist attractions and services in a manner which serves both visitors and the tourism industry,” said then-tourism, culture and recreation minister Clyde Jackman in a news release.

At the time, the decision was met with some blunt opposition and some solid support. Individual businesses that had invested in signage didn’t like the fact that their signs would come down. They also didn’t like the blue and white fingerboards that were to replace the existing billboards. Business owners felt the signs were too expensive, too small and too limited in number, while Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador supported the new effort, saying that some signs were simply unmaintained blights on the side of the road.

Four years in, there have been interesting results — some signs were taken down, others stayed.

Some of the TODS signs provoke unexpected hilarity. The signs use a standard graphic to show what sort of tourism services are being offered, and it’s hard to fathom why, for four years, a St. Philip’s greenhouse business has been illustrated with a symbol of a ball of wool and two knitting needles.

But probably the most interesting thing about the province’s signage policy is something quite different. While the provincial government came into the sign fray with great determination and resolve, the issue simply fell off their radar, and pretty darned quickly, too.

Despite the threats of immediate action if signs weren’t taken down, many business owners on the Trans-Canada Highway simply left their signs up — and many of those signs are still in place, many years after the government crackdown supposedly began.

And perhaps highway signs are a little bit like weeds; the provincial government may have pulled a few up in a display of garden workmanship, but without a steady effort, the garden is getting overgrown again.

Anyone who regularly drives the Trans-Canada and other provincial highways has seen an increasing number of new signs, and not lightweight efforts, either. Bases made of pressure-treated cribbing filled with stone, and large, expensive signs are cropping up not only on the TCH, but on the road to Gros Morne, the Veteran’s Memorial Highway and the Burin Peninsula highway, just to name a few. On the “Road to the Beaches” and on the Baie Verte highway, owner-built signs are more prominent, and apparently more common, than the government’s short flirtation with TODS.

The moral of the story? Perhaps that, as the old saying goes, you can’t beat city hall — but you sure can simply wait until they’re looking in another direction.

Organizations: Trans-Canada Highway

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Baie Verte

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