Illegal Road Signs and Bounty Hunters

Forum Watch Editorial


In an ongoing (five years or more) discussion with Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Albemarle County Board of Supervisorsis now contemplating hiring bounty hunters to collect illegal road signs erected in the VDOT right of way.


What makes a sign illegal?  According to The Code of Virginia Section 33.1

§ 33.1-370. Special provisions pertaining to interstate, national highway system, and federal-aid primary highways.

A. Notwithstanding the territorial limitation set out in § 33.1-353, no sign or advertisement adjacent to any interstate, national highway system, or federal-aid primary highway shall be erected, maintained or displayed which is visible from the main traveled way within 660 feet of the nearest edge of the right-of-way, except as provided in subsections B and D of this section, and outside of an urban area no sign or advertisement beyond 660 feet of the nearest edge of the right-of-way of any interstate, national highway system, or federal-aid primary highway which is visible from the main traveled way shall be erected, maintained, or displayed with the purpose of its message being read from the main traveled way, except as set forth in subsection C.

According to Albemarle County’s August 3, 2005 staff report:

VDOT has authority to remove all the signs from the right of way, recover the costs of this removal and to impose a $100 civil fine for each sign.  There is a rebuttable presumption that the sign was placed by the entity the sign advertises.  This presumption allows VDOT to prosecute in a civil process without having to catch the offenders in the act of placing the signs.  The local VDOT office does not aggressively seek costs or fines for these violations and believes the effort required to collect these costs and fines would often exceed the amounts that could be collected.

Faced with this reality in 2005, Albemarle County tested a pilot program designed to determine if an enforcement effort by the county coupled with a public education campaign could impact the number of illegal signs placed in the VDOT right of way. 

According to the February 1, 2006 staff report, this pilot program, of just 2 roadways US 29 and Route 250 had mixed reviews and generated significant costs.

The resources required for the 5 sign sweeps and the follow up contact were significant.  Approximately 115 staff hours were dedicated to this pilot program, the majority of which was paid at time-and-a-half.  It is estimated that the program cost just over $3,960, or $790 per sweep.  The response to our follow up letter sent to the potential violators was overwhelmingly negative, and consumed a significant amount of staff time during regular work hours when calls were received.  Multiple callers stated that the program was not a good use of taxpayer’s money. Callers also pointed out that the County places its public notice signs in the public right-of-way. [emphasis added-nw]

Staff also highlighted the additional demand on staff time would likely preclude maintaining their current level of service with their current staff level.

So in 2006 when presented with this conundrum that the removal of such signs would likely cost more than it would generate Albemarle County chose not to move forward with implementing this plan. 

Last month a new idea came forward, Road Sign Bounty Hunters.  Supervisors discussed the possibility of splitting the civil penalty $25/$75 with VDOT and then Albemarle could pay private individuals $25 per sign presented.  Supervisor Thomas thought VDOT might want to look at this enforcement actiona as a new revenue source in these dollar strapped times.

The idea generated a great deal of discussion but does not appear in the Board Action noted from the meeting.  It remains to be seen if this discussion will ever go any further.  My notes indicate it was left that Allen Sumptner from VDOT would get back to the Board on the Sign Bounty Hunter concept.

While The Free Enterprise Forum does not condone any illegal activity, we do question the level of priority road sign enforcement is being given considering the many other important issues Albemarle County is facing.  If this is the top priority for Albemarle County, the enforcement should be conducted in a professional manner by Albemarle County staff (at a huge cost to the taxpayers).  To offer a reward for every torn cardboard box that reads “Garage Sale 8-?” is a recipe for disaster and does little to improve the fabric of the community.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson







  1. Neil, I don’t think I need to tell you that is law designed to deal with excesses and therefore not a problem in Albemarle County. This is a typical example of an outragious over-reaching government. Small real estate signs don’t offend anyone and are not a traffic hazard any more than the birds n the field or the stars in the sky. No wonder the public approval rate of the United States congress is so low (far below the executive branch). Encourage the county to pass a law to make it a violation to remove a sign without the owners permission. Get a petition stated today and start it circulating. change the world at the grass roots. Joe

  2. I think the Bounty Hunter idea is EXCELLENT. Those signs are repulsive and for anyone who has been to Northern Virginia, I hope we never reach their levels.

  3. If you disagree, I encourage you to drive around Prince William and Fairfax Counties and see if your views change.

  4. Small real estate signs offend me. I know the signs are illegal and I have noticed an increase in such signs. Five years ago I saw only one or two on my daily commute. Today I see a dozen on my daily commute.

    It is my understanding that it is already illegal for me to remove these signs – the signs may only be removed by the police or VDOT.

    While unregulated bounty hunters could be a problem, I welcome licensed or certified bounty hunters.

    One reason I enjoy living in Albemarle County is the beauty. To me, these small signs disturb and interrupt that beauty and thus my quality of life. Maybe that is why the signs are illegal.

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