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IMZADI1979, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

IMZADI1979, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

How Much Do Companies Pay to Get Their Logos on Those Blue Highway Exit Signs?

IMZADI1979, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

IMZADI1979, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When you’re driving down the highway searching desperately for a bathroom and a Big Mac, the appearance of one of those blue exit signs—the ones that advertise food, lodging, and other amenities along highway off-ramps—can seem like a miracle, alerting you to the unexpected appearance of a Taco Bell or the all-important availability of a gas station. But who or what determines which businesses get their logos on those signs?

As usual, it all comes down to money. But how much do businesses have to pay to get their names on those signs? Jalopnik tracked down the rules and regulations that govern those highway signs, and they’re more complicated than you might think.

While the regulations vary from state to state, not every business can slap its logo on what’s called Specific Services Signing. It has to be in a certain category of services, for one—food, pharmacy, gas, camping, etc. Then, there are restrictions on what those businesses have to offer to be eligible. In New Jersey, for instance, regulations require that gas and food establishments be within three miles of the highway, operate 12 to 16 hours a day, and provide public bathrooms and telephones. In Oregon, restaurants must have indoor seating for at least 20 people and serve at least two meals a day, among other qualifications [PDF].

If your business does qualify to erect an exit sign, how much it costs varies based on the location. Some states contract out their programs to private companies like Interstate Logos, which then create and maintain the signage, while other states maintain the signs themselves. In Oregon, permit fees are determined based on daily traffic estimates—heavily trafficked stretches of highway cost $605 per year, per mainline sign, while highways with less than 20,000 drivers passing per day only cost $360 per sign per year [PDF]. In Colorado, a mainline sign costs $750 per direction [PDF]. In Virginia, a single sign can cost as much as $1000 a year [PDF].

Then there’s the cost of manufacturing the logo sign itself to attach to the blue board, which can run several hundred dollars per sign. Washington State’s guidelines estimate that the smallest logo—a 2-by-1-foot sign—can cost between $84 and $530, and a 5-by-3-foot sign can cost between $330 and $530.

Typically, there can only be six logos per mainline sign (meaning the ones that come before the exit ramp), and often there are more businesses vying for signage than there are spaces for logos. In Colorado, logos are rotated in and out annually, while Washington maintains a waiting list; Arizona uses a bidding process, and Michigan [PDF] assigns priority based on the closest proximity to the highway.

But businesses wouldn’t deal with the application process if it wasn’t worth it. Waiting lists to get on the signs can be decades long, and there’s typically low turnover of businesses opting out of the programs (just 1 to 2 percent in Kentucky). Clearly, there are a lot of drivers out there just waiting to be swayed into stopping for fast food.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
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Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Does Santa Claus Give Coal to Bad Kids?
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The tradition of giving misbehaving children lumps of fossil fuel predates the Santa we know, and is also associated with St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Italy’s La Befana. Though there doesn't seem to be one specific legend or history about any of these figures that gives a concrete reason for doling out coal specifically, the common thread between all of them seems to be convenience.

Santa and La Befana both get into people’s homes via the fireplace chimney and leave gifts in stockings hung from the mantel. Sinterklaas’s controversial assistant, Black Pete, also comes down the chimney and places gifts in shoes left out near the fireplace. St. Nick used to come in the window, and then switched to the chimney when they became common in Europe. Like Sinterklaas, his presents are traditionally slipped into shoes sitting by the fire.

So, let’s step into the speculation zone: All of these characters are tied to the fireplace. When filling the stockings or the shoes, the holiday gift givers sometimes run into a kid who doesn’t deserve a present. So to send a message and encourage better behavior next year, they leave something less desirable than the usual toys, money, or candy—and the fireplace would seem to make an easy and obvious source of non-presents. All the individual would need to do is reach down into the fireplace and grab a lump of coal. (While many people think of fireplaces burning wood logs, coal-fired ones were very common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is when the American Santa mythos was being established.)

That said, with the exception of Santa, none of these characters limits himself to coal when it comes to bad kids. They’ve also been said to leave bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, and onions, which suggests that they’re less reluctant than Santa to haul their bad kid gifts around all night in addition to the good presents.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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