Thanks for Asking | Oct. 13, 2011

Our Local Jack-Of-All-Facts Tells You How It Is

Frank Smoot |

When you come into town you see DOT highway signs for restaurants and gas stations. How much does it cost to advertise on those?

Thanks for asking! The signs you ponder have a collective name, “tourist oriented directional signs,” or TODS. In many states, private companies handle the process. Among the biggest of those companies is Interstate Logos LLC. However, before ILLLC got on the road in 1988, four states had already instituted signing programs: Arizona, Indiana, Minnesota, and – oh let me think – Wisconsin!

This all traces back to Tall Texan, U.S. President, and dog-ear-puller LBJ, who signed the Highway Beautification Act in 1965. In essence, it allows the federal government to control outdoor advertising along the 306,000 miles of highways funded by federal aid, including the Interstates.

The lifespan of the TODS in the wild is estimated to be 10 years. Total costs over that period are around $550. Works out to about a dollar per week for each sign.

There are lots of rules about who can put up a TODS: what your business does (that is, how it might interest the minivan family tooling down America’s byways), how many hours you stay open, whether you have bathrooms, etc. In Wisconsin, if you think you qualify, you contact the county highway department in which the sign will be located. You complete an application and attach a check for $100 (administration fee) payable to the county. If you don’t qualify, or there isn’t room for a new TODS at your exit, the check will be returned.

If you make the cut, you’ll get a list of qualified TODS sign manufacturers. Once you get the sign done (costs vary), you bring it in to the county highway department with a check for $250 (installation fee) payable to the Wisconsin DOT. The county hangs it.

Additions and corrections:

1) Mt. Tom. More than one astute reader noticed that in my roundup of lofty local spots (Sept. 1 issue), I forgot Mt. Tom. Doubly strange because I live in its shadow. Tom has an elevation of 1,022.

2) The Hobbs brothers. I answered a question about the Hallie tavern Hobbsy and Me and its relation to Eau Claire’s fabulous football family (Aug. 4 issue). I got a kind note from older brother Jon Hobbs, now of Jamestown, Ohio (and Palm Desert, California, in the winter):

“Most of the information you gave is correct, but my real first name is Jon. (I used John in high school until I had to use my legal name.) My mom worked out of our home and was a seamstress. She made special dresses and complete wedding party dresses for many weddings. She also knit for the local baby shop in the 9th Ward. After college I joined the Air Force and served for 21 years. In that time I earned a Masters from the Air Force Institute of Technology and a PhD from Stanford. After retiring from the Air Force I joined the faculty at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and taught there for 18 years. I retired in 1998. In 1964 I married an Ohio girl named Judy Kyle, and we have been blessed with three boys, all grown and on their own. We have five grandchildren. Bill left UW-Madison lacking a few courses to graduate and never did finish. He entered the Army as an officer and left the Army after his three-year commitment. He worked in the Eau Claire area as a sportswear salesman and occasionally coached football. He purchased a half-interest in ‘Hobbsy and Me.’ He operated the bar until he died in 1996. His financial interest in the bar was sold to his partner. We also have three sisters: Roberta Sheehy, who still lives in Eau Claire, Margaret King who lives in Denver, and Gerrie O’Donahue who lives in Madison."

Got a local question? Send it (17 S. Barstow St.) or email it ( and Frank will answer it!  Frank has lived in Eau Claire for most of the past 43 years. He is an editor and researcher at the Chippewa Valley Museum, which is open all year just beyond the Paul Bunyan Camp Museum in beautiful Carson Park. You should go there.