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How interstate signs help fund South Carolina road projects

The South Carolina Department of Transportation generates about $4 Million annually from the blue exit signs.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The blue signs along the interstate allow drivers to know what food and gas are available at the next exit. It turns out, they also help fund road projects in South Carolina. 

Businesses pay to advertise on the signs, and that money goes to the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT). In addition to food and gas, hotels and attractions are marketed on the interstate signs, too. 

According to Pete Poore with SCDOT, 1,557 businesses participate in the state’s "Logo Program." Businesses each pay a yearly fee that’s based on the number of drivers in that area per day, ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 per sign.

“We have a company that markets those signs for us, meaning they determine who goes on the signs, unless there’s a demand for the signs that exceeds the number of spaces, then we get into a bidding process,” explained Poore.

SCDOT says these blue highway signs generate an average of over $4 Million annually for the state and its roads. “That goes into our general fund, so every little bit helps,” said Poore.

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That $4 Million helps fund maintenance projects, on top of other revenue streams for SCDOT like the gas tax.

“We have four major categories: We’re trying to resurface roads, replace bridges that need to be replaced, improve the interstates, and improve safety on the roads in what we call the rural road safety program," explained Poore.

The agency doesn’t track which specific projects the sign-generated money goes to, but money from the interstate signs help pay for less than 1% of the department’s total cost of construction projects, which is currently around $3.7 Billion.

“We don’t get that much in the grand scheme of things,” admitted Poore. While it might not be a lot, these blue highway signs are money-makers for the state, and they benefit the businesses listed on them.

One of the local businesses that markets on the signs is Lizard's Thicket.

“We find it to be one of the better ways to reach the interstate traveler," said Sara Krisnow, community relations manager for Lizard's Thicket. "You’re reaching them 365 days a year, going both directions, so we find it to be very cost-effective.”

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Krisnow said three of their 13 locations advertise on the blue signs due to how close they are to the interstate ramps. She said they boost business by bringing in out-of-town customers. 

“The signs are definitely working for us," Krisnow said. "They’re telling us they’re coming from Georgia, North Carolina, all over the country really, and they say, 'I saw your sign on the interstate, and what is Lizards Thicket?' So, they stop by to see what we’re all about!”

South Carolina’s privatized logo program launched in 1995. State transportation officials say it has proven to be a successful boost in revenue for participating businesses and SCDOT, which is why the program continues to this day.

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