Catherine Hiles
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How Do Businesses Get On The Blue Highway Exit Signs?

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blue highway exit sign depicting nearby businesses
Example of a blue highway exit sign
Public domain photo

Anyone who has completed a long-distance drive in the U.S. knows how useful the blue highway signs advertising gas stations and restaurants at each exit are. After a couple of hours behind the wheel, seeing a sign for a Starbucks can really perk you up. And while you could find the same information in your maps app, messing with your phone while you’re driving is a very dumb idea.

Typically, these signs show gas stations, lodging, and restaurants, though some also show nearby attractions. These signs are a vital part of the U.S. highway system; but have you ever wondered what it takes for a business to get featured on one?

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History of the blue highway sign

These signs started popping up after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Highway Beautification Act into law in 1965. This law put limits on the number of billboards states could put along highways. The law was designed to de-spam highways and make them more visually appealing to drivers, but it was a blow to businesses who relied on highway billboards for their advertising.

States began putting up the blue highway signs to help local businesses advertise their services without clogging up the highway with gaudy billboards. As a bonus to the businesses, having their logo added to the signs was cheaper than taking out a full billboard on the side of the road.

How do businesses get on the signs?

Unsurprisingly, the answer to that is money. The states don’t just feature businesses on the blue highway signs out of the kindness of their hearts. Businesses have to shell out the big bucks to get their name on the signs.

The exact amount to be featured on the sign depends on location. According to the Bristol Herald Courier, Virginia businesses pay an average of $1,000 per year to be listed on the signs. That increases to $1,600 per year in Tennessee, and HowStuffWorks reports that the annual cost in Nebraska is $1,200. That cost is per sign, so if you want to show off your business on both sides of the highway (for example on the south ramp and the north ramp) you’ll pay double that.

What types of businesses are on the signs?

Each state has its own criteria that a business has to meet in order to be featured on a blue highway sign. That may include specific distance from the highway exit, a minimum number of parking spots, and amenities such as public bathrooms and drinking water.

Businesses with longer opening hours also have a better chance of inclusion, which is why many of the listings are chains like McDonalds and Chipotle which are usually open long hours every day. Local restaurants that have limited hours may not be eligible for inclusion on the signs.

The signs also cover any nearby attractions, such as museums and zoos. If you’re on a road trip with small kids, knowing where the best attractions are can help break up the drive and alleviate boredom (though your drive will take longer if you make lengthy stops).

There are several types of businesses and organizations that are ineligible for inclusion on the blue highway signs. Some common examples are movie theatres, churches, and adult entertainment venues.

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