Whose sign is it anyway?

“Stop,” “Bighorn Sheep Crossing,” “Trailhead,” “Whoa!” these are the messages we read on signs around Big Sky. Many of them are now toppled, crumpled or have inexplicably disappeared—the spring thaw reveals street signs, directional signs, wildlife and pedestrian signs that have been damaged from dutiful snowplows and/or errant motorists.

As the daughter of a printer (father) and a sign maker (mother), I’m particularly perceptive of signage in general. It’s left me wondering: Who is responsible for road signage in the Big Sky area? As with other topics we’ve discussed, the answer is complicated.

First, the Montana Department of Transportation oversees Highway 64, aka Lone Mountain Trail, and Highway 191 through Gallatin Canyon. Their road signs must follow the letter of the law. Sizes, colors and placement are dictated by federal mandates. As a font nerd, I was interested to learn the official typeface of the DOT is Highway Gothic. Its legibility is marvelous and makes me swoon!

However, I learned that the way-finding signs and some crosswalk signs along those roadways are the responsibility of the chamber of commerce and the Big Sky Community Organization, respectively. They install, maintain and replace those signs as needed, at their expense. The pedestrian sign that was damaged near Kircher Park will be repaired soon, incrementally improving the safety of that perilous intersection.

Secondly, and perhaps more surprisingly, all other road signs are the dominion of their respective homeowner associations. The design, procurement and installation are their responsibility. Yes, even stop signs, posts and pilings are paid for and adjudicated by the many HOAs throughout Big Sky.

The largest HOA here is the Big Sky Owners Association with approximately 1,500 members. There are even HOAs within that HOA. For example, Silverbow Condos have their own signage, above and beyond BSOA.

BSOA uses approximately $3,000 from their annual budget for signs, which pays for approximately four or five signs. A dedicated private contractor handles their stop, speed limit and road names signage.

In our neighborhood, South Fork, we recently raised our HOA dues, partly in order to replace damaged street signs. West Fork is an adjacent neighborhood and faces a similar conundrum, but with the additional responsibility of streetl¬¬ights.

We live in a harsh climate and it’s expensive to maintain things that face exposure to Big Sky’s weather. Just like the exterior of a home, a simple stop sign covered in stickers needs costly and regular attention.

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