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Disappearing signs

Traffic signs are
vanishing from
streets and showing
up as decorations in Columbia living rooms
Monday, January 12, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:52 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

They’re green and white and read all over.

Street signs from Aaron Drive to Zinnia Drive tell Columbia residents where they are, but increasingly those signs are disappearing. Last year, about 1,800 street signs were replaced by the Traffic Division of the city’s Public Works Department. And at $150 a pop, the costs to taxpayers are adding up — to about $270,000 in 2003.

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“In the last two or 2 1/2 years, sign problems have dramatically increased,” said Jim McKinnon, street superintendent for Public Works.

Although signs are replaced when worn-out or damaged, the majority of signs put up replace missing or stolen signs.

McKinnon said the most frequently replaced signs are from the East Campus neighborhood. Streets signs such as Rosemary Lane and Anthony Street are frequently missing. The signs on Wilson Avenue were replaced 17 times in a one-year period, more than any other sign in town. High Street was a close second at 16 times.

“We can’t get the High Street sign replaced fast enough. We tried putting it on a higher pole, but they still managed to get it,” McKinnon said.

McKinnon said other problem signs include the so-called “beer streets.” Keystone Drive was replaced eight times last year, and Corona Road was replaced six times.

“A One Way sign outside of my house got stolen once, and it was pretty annoying,” said Susan Crouch, a former resident of East Campus.

Bantz said the missing signs aren’t confusing for people who live in the neighborhood, but it can be hard for visitors to find where they’re going.

“I try to avoid street names when I give directions,” Mike Bantz, a resident of East Campus, said of navigating increasingly signless terrain. “I use landmarks instead.”

People from the fire department have noticed the increase in missing signs as well.

“Some firefighters from station 8 and 1 told me they’ve really noticed a lot missing,” said Amy Barrett, a lieutenant from the fire marshal’s division.

“Just on the street where I live, the signs have been stolen five times.”

Barrett said the fire crews are familiar enough with their territories that a missing street sign is a minor hassle. However, when firefighters serve at unfamiliar stations, missing signs can cause confusion. The department relies primarily on maps to avoid the problem.

When Barrett conducts periodic fire inspections of fraternity and sorority houses, she often finds the stolen signs being used as decoration, she said.

“I take away the signs to try to deter this, but it’s hard to know how to stop this kind of vandalism,” she said.

Dennie Pendergrass, chief of operations for Public Works, said missing street signs have always been a problem. Each new sign must be manufactured by Public Works, and Traffic Division employees must be paid to put it up.

Despite the popularity of sign collecting as a trend, anyone eyeing that shiny green sign on Paquin Street or Aldeah Avenue should be warned: Stealing a street sign is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.


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