Ever been hauling down the Interstate and notice that the gas tank's fallen to less than a quarter of a tank, you need to use the restroom, and you "need" a half-gallon of coffee to get through the next leg of the trip while singing Tom Cochrane? If you're like us, you're going to start looking for those big, blue interstate highway signs. Officially called "interstate logo signs" or "specific service signs", these are regulated state-by-state but these aren't placed to help travelers. They are advertisements, placed by the state or an outsourced private firm, that are paid for by the advertised businesses. And these signs are more effective than many other forms of advertising; 98% of drivers reported using these signs to make decisions while on the road. The businesses attract customers, the group posting the sign gets revenue, and the state government gets a cut (of course).
David Tracy of Jalopnik wrote an informative article about these signs. Our team had never consciously thought about the signs coming in a pre-determined order but now we're all aware. The sign on the side of the highway advertising the upcoming Shell station? The logo itself is likely 3 by 4 feet on a massive 10 foot by 17 foot blue sign, and the sign likely costs the business between $2,000 and $10,000 per year. And while we always knew these signs were advertising, we didn't know precisely how they were funded, designed, and maintained. In the most remote stretches of highway, we now know who to blame for the disappointment of seeing a mainline sign offering gas, then a sign on the ramp clarifying that the gas is really another five miles off our route ...
Highways to Hell? Two U.S. states have gaps of more than 100 miles between gas stations.
Serving as the contractor placing highway information signs is the very definition of a niche market. In fact, most contractors never even cross state lines. The largest of the outsourced companies placing these signs is Interstate Logos, L.L.C. Interstate Logos also holds the unique honor of being the only company that serves more than one state -- they put up and maintain interstate logo signs in 23 U.S. states and one Canadian province. Their website shows some examples of signs in various states; Chris and I were each able to recognize more than one of the signs on their scroll and could even exactly place those signs from memory. Then again, Winnemucca is the only city on Hank Snow's list we haven't (yet) crossed off ...
Ever wonder why shops right near the interstate may not be listed on the signs? The system is entirely voluntary. A company never has to enroll in the program and a company can stop participating at any time; don't pay the yearly fee or don't pony up to replace a logo after a traffic accident and the company's no longer on the signage. Yet effectively every eligible business renews these signs each year, to the point that it seems odd when driving to see a blank space in the middle of a sign. Like Taylor Swift, the contractor would be happy to welcome a new entrant.
So the next time you start looking for highway signs to determine your stop, remember that the listed business owners really want to see you; they are paying between $6 and $30 per day just for those blue signs (based upon location). And those unlisted gas stations and restaurants you see at the same exit? We definitely understand why those companies might want to leverage the marketing dollars of others! For all the help those signs provide us, they are representative but not inclusive.
Curious about our Interstate highway system in general? The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) maintains a useful set of FAQs for public reference.
While travelers have largely switched from road atlases to smartphones/GPS, Interstate logo signs have remained a constant resource for drivers. And our AutoSlash team has remained a constant resource for car renters. Request a quote below and we'll send you the best possible offers within minutes!