Fairfax woman wages war against 'tacky' roadside signs

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 14, 2009

Some people spend their Saturday mornings cruising yard sales or running errands. Juli Verrier spends hers ripping down signs.

Outraged over the bumper crop of ads that spring up along Fairfax County roads, Verrier dodges traffic and angry merchants in a one-woman fight against clutter, filling her car's trunk to overflowing with signs hawking everything from sushi bars to massages.

"I get passionate about certain things," said Verrier, who said she once called the Virginia Department of Transportation after traveling through Massachusetts to suggest that VDOT investigate how the Bay State kept its roads so clean.

It was the homemade jobbies that finally sent her around the bend -- the ones with crooked black-marker writing on poster board seeking a roommate or offering the secret to earning $20,000 a month -- signs that are illegal in Virginia.

"And the fact that they're everywhere," Verrier said. "I think it's just gotten out of hand."

Some entrepreneurs say Verrier and others like her are roadside vigilantes whose tidying of rights of way collides with their right to free speech. But others see her and her ilk as civic-minded activists whose dedication is more valuable than ever when state and local governments lack the money or the power to clean up roads.

The issue of signs on Fairfax roads has long bedeviled officials, especially because they are the first to feel residents' wrath.

County officials said they are weary of having to explain that they lack the authority (and money) to enforce state law, because rights of way are a VDOT responsibility. But VDOT is so broke that if not for volunteers, no one would be cleaning up the signs.

"Who doesn't get irritated when you're driving down the highway and you see all these signs?" said Joan Morris, a VDOT spokeswoman. But, she said, "we have fewer and fewer dollars to spend. That's today's reality."

Virginia law prohibits posting commercial signs along roads and in medians. The prohibition applied to all signs until 1993, when members of the General Assembly carved out an exception for campaign posters. Violators face a fine of $100 per sign.

But no official who was asked could remember the last time the law was enforced, and VDOT said there is barely enough money to cover essential services.

Since spring 2008, VDOT's funding has been cut by $4.6 billion. Despite eliminating jobs and closing rest stops, the agency faces a shortfall of $84 million.

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