Toll-sign creator has change of heart

After speaking with WSDOT, he shares concern over safety

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Drivers won’t be doing any more double takes over orange traffic signs during their cross-state commute.

Christian Berrigan, the creator of two eye-catching political signs that look very similar to orange, diamond-shaped traffic signs, says he is done using them to campaign against potential bridge tolls and for toll-opponent David Madore, who is running for county commissioner.

Berrigan came to the decision Friday after speaking with the Washington State Department of Transportation about its safety concerns surrounding the signs.

“I did not concede that we had violated any law,” Berrigan said. “But I decided it was good civic duty to consider the spirit of the law.”

Berrigan had placed a red, rectangular secondary sign above the signs-in-question to let drivers know it was “Not a real sign … yet!”

His interpretation of Washington law is that the disclaimer keeps the signs from being mistaken for the real deal.

He’s sticking to that point, but said he understands the state’s concerns as well.

“When (WSDOT) said this desensitizes drivers to these types of signs at work sites, I took a step back,” Berrigan said. “When I thought about that, I realized it was something I had no argument against. We don’t want to make workers’ jobs at (WSDOT) work sites more difficult.”

Berrigan contacted the department after it responded to his Monday morning sign display at the metered ramp connecting Highway 14 westbound to Interstate 5 southbound.

The state originally said it would be looking out for Berrigan’s display and would potentially issue him a written warning to halt his campaigning. In the end, all it took was a talk.

“He had other thoughts about (the signs) imitating traffic control signs,” said WSDOT spokeswoman Abbi Russell. “We talked through that, and he understands signs that look like that do dilute the effectiveness of traffic control signs. We really appreciate him working with us.”

The design wasn’t the only concern raised during the few times the signs came out over the past week.

After an Oct. 19 sign event in Oregon, Berrigan said he learned Oregon law forbids the signs, and vowed not return to the south side of the Columbia River to campaign with them.

During Monday’s campaigning, a Washington State Patrol trooper told Berrigan that pedestrians aren’t allowed on the shoulder of the highway for safety reasons. Berrigan promised not to return, opting instead for a spot on Mill Plain where pedestrians are allowed, and near the Interstate 5 off-ramp.

And while he doesn’t agree with WSDOT’s interpretation of the design law, he is done testing it.

“I’m being cooperative,” Berrigan said. “We’ve decided to cease with (the signs).”

Berrigan said multiple times that his efforts were not a practice in civil disobedience, but rather a way to be politically active. And he says he’s not done campaigning.

“The plan is, having taken the guidance from (WSDOT), to produce signs that will give them less heartburn,” Berrigan said. “I got some advice from them about what would be better. I didn’t ask for any official approval — I want to make that clear — but we did get good guidance.”

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com.