State Highway Administration plans to remove road signs with logos at an exit near Laurel has some business owners concerned that motorists traveling up Interstate 95 might pass them by.
The decision to remove the signs, on the northbound side of I-95, stems from new Intercounty Connector-related construction near Route 198. To better manage increased traffic flow for commuters traveling between I-95 and Route 1 or the ICC, SHA is incorporating the highway exits into side service roads that link up with the ICC and Contee Road.
With the reconfiguration comes new signage. SHA officials say that there isn't a lot of room for multiple signs, which according to federal guidelines must be placed at least 800 feet apart.
And the precedent set by similar connector roads, such as those along the Interstate-270 corridor, is that signage with specific logos is not necessary.
But for local hotel manager Amit Vora, removing the signs would be a blow to business in Laurel.
"The signage provides motorists a direction to go where essential services are," said Vora, who manages the Quality Inn and Suites on Second Street. Removing these signs, near I-95 exits 33A and 33B, "would impact our businesses tremendously."
In response to these concerns, District 21 state Sen. Jim Rosapepe organized a meeting Nov. 14 between SHA representatives and the business community. Rosapepe said about a dozen business leaders attended the meeting.
"We don't want to lose the ability of people to know what's available in Laurel," he said. "I think everybody's trying to be reasonable about this and use common sense."
According to SHA spokesman Dave Buck, it's the highway administration's policy that signs for collector/distributor lanes do not have specific logos. The idea is that drivers using those lanes are commuters who are familiar with the area.
"If you're on a C/D lane, you know where you're going from point A to point B," Buck said. He said generic signs, with icons for food, lodging and gas, were sufficient to alert motorists about businesses off the exit.
Buck said the idea of signage with logos originated as a way to keep motorists informed about options along rural highway exits.
"The program was specifically intended for use in rural areas so that motorists would know what to expect if exits were far apart," he said. "That kind of morphed over time."
Vora, who was at the meeting, said a good chunk of his business came from people who saw a sign for the Quality Inn as they were traveling along I-95. He estimated walk-in guests made up about 10 to 15 percent of his customers. Generic signs, he argued, just wouldn't cut it.
"The reality of it is that's not really going to help," he said. "If I don't know that [a business] is a Subway or a McDonald's, I'm not going to stop. It really does not help direct the public."
Businessman Bob Mignon, who also attended the meeting, said another concern was that in the new road configuration, drivers will have to make a decision long before they get to Route 198 as to whether they want to get off the highway and go to Laurel.
"That's truly amazing, it really is," he said. "I'm not sure what the impact of that [will be]."
Mignon, who owns Minuteman Press on Main Street and does not have a sign of his own currently on the highway, said he thought signs displaying logos gave credibility to businesses. "It lets the traveler know that they're going to a respected place," he said.
Buck said the SHA hadn't made any final decisions about signage just yet. A follow-up meeting between the highway administration and business owners will take place next month.
"This is not a done deal. It's just a proposal," Buck said.
Rosapepe said he hoped the two groups could reach an acceptable solution. The logo-bearing road signs, he said, had been instituted by his predecessor Art Dorman about a quarter century ago.
"The [District 21] delegates and I obviously want to support the Laurel business community. It's a win for motorists on the highway and businesses in Laurel," he said.
"We want to make sure that with these road improvements we're improving things, not undermining them," he added.