A supporter of Columbia River Crossing foe David Madore came up with a bold way to appeal to bridge-bound commuters. But the state says his method is against the law.
Two election signs, designed to look like orange, diamond-shaped traffic signs, appeared near onramps in Washington and Oregon during commuting hours over the past few days. One sign warns of a potential future of high bridge tolls as a result of the Columbia River Crossing project. A second sign says the alternative is to elect Madore as a Clark County commissioner.
The Washington State Department of Transportation says the campaigning is illegal for a few reasons.
The department wants folks to stay off the highway for safety reasons. WSDOT also says posting campaign signs on state rights-of-way is prohibited and believes the signs look too much like traffic safety signs.
“We are very concerned about the signs, because of safety issues,” said WSDOT spokeswoman Abbi Russell. The state’s position is that drivers could be distracted by the copycat signs, creating several safety concerns. “Number one for us is safety. Both the safety for drivers, and safety for those on the side of road.”
Christian Berrigan, creator of the signs, agrees with a few of the complaints, but says he will still use the signs to campaign.
Washington law says it’s unlawful to erect a sign which is “likely to be mistaken for such a (traffic) sign or bearing any such words as ‘danger,’ ‘stop,’ ‘slow,’ ‘turn,’ or similar words, figures, or directions likely to be construed as giving warning to traffic.”
Berrigan said his signs aren’t “likely to be mistaken” for a traffic sign because of a red disclaimer he’s posted atop the first sign.
“There is an escape clause in the (Washington law) that I feel comfortable with,” Berrigan said. “That does not exist in Oregon.”
Berrigan admits he inadvertently broke a few rules. Last week, he set up the sign near an Oregon freeway onramp and waved to motorists along with other supporters. That won’t be repeated, he said. After reviewing Oregon law, Berrigan said he agrees it was a violation.
Berrigan also won’t be standing by the side of the highway anymore. A Washington State Patrol trooper contacted Berrigan and another individual just before 9 a.m. Monday morning as they stood with the signs near the ramp connecting state Highway 14 westbound to Interstate 5 southbound. The trooper told him that wasn’t allowed, and Berrigan says he won’t stand there anymore.
“As we were leaving, the state patrol let us know no one is allowed there at all,” Berrigan said. “I assumed since people are asking for money there all the time, it was OK. But he said ‘No it’s not,’ and I said ‘No problem.’ ”
Berrigan said “this isn’t about civil disobedience,” but rather a way to get folks talking about an issue he believes is critical for the county.
“We are trying to be creative and we are trying to get information out on an issue we think is very important,” Berrigan said. “I wanted to create the emotional experience for drivers of having to pay tolls.”
Berrigan said he’s currently staking out a new place to spread his message to drivers. And Russell said WSDOT will be looking out for him.
If the state does officially tell Berrigan his sign isn’t legal, Russell said he will have 15 days to come into compliance. If he doesn’t, a fine could be assessed.
The move wouldn’t be unheard of in Clark County.
During her unsuccessful bid for a second term as county clerk in 2010, Sherry Parker was told by WSDOT to take down her yellow-and-black, diamond-shaped campaign signs because they resembled traffic signs.
Berrigan said he takes ownership of the signs, as he came up with the concept on his own and paid for most of the materials.
He said he was unsure about who donated to the fabrication of the signs.
Madore’s campaign manager, Anna Miller, said the Madore campaign did not contribute to the signs.
“Several local citizens wanted to bring attention to their opposition to the possibility of tolls on the I-5 Bridge and also show their support for David Madore for County Commissioner, Pos. 2,” Miller wrote in an email. “The campaign made no contribution.”
Berrigan said the toll fee of $8.28 used in the signs is a figure he’s heard in the past, but recognizes there are several numbers being discussed. A mailer sent out by Madore claims tolls will cost $8.28 per round-trip.
If the CRC project moves forward, the Washington State Transportation Commission and the Oregon Transportation Commission will set the final toll rates. The CRC office says toll rates studied are up to $3 one way, or about $3.53 in 2020, post-construction dollars.