Skip to Content

Roadway Signs in Your Community

A Traffic Sign Inventory was completed in April 1998 to assess the condition of almost 5,000 existing warning and regulatory signs in terms of replacement needs. The signs were rated and reported as excellent, good, fair, poor or missing. The inventory was collected in a computer database using the CarteGraph SIGNview software. Based on this survey, the Highway Maintenance Division is responsible for ensuring the manufacture, installation and maintenance of approximately 2,461 regulatory signs (stop, yield, speed / weight limit, do not enter, one way signs etc.) and 2,493 warning signs (curve ahead, advisory, dead end, bus stop, fire station signs etc.) of which 913 and 678 signs were eligible for State Program 402 replacement monies. When permanent signs are not available, temporary signage is required by the Supervisor to include the installation of signs for special events. The Department of Public Works & Transportation maintains thousands of traffic signs. The signs are designed and installed according to nationally recognized standards. They are grouped into several categories:

  • Regulatory, such as speed, stop or yield signs;
  • Warning, which are diamond-shaped with a yellow background, such as "curve ahead"; and
  • Guide, which usually have green or brown backgrounds that help motorists navigate through unfamiliar areas. Any problems with an existing signs should be reported to the Department, however missing / damaged STOP or YIELD signs are considered urgent and a top safety priority. To report a missing or damaged sign, leave a message on our 24hour Customer Service Line at (301) 4754200. Please provide your name, daytime phone number, type of sign, name of street(s) and it's location.

The Maintenance Request Form where citizens can report street and highway related problems for repair or to submit reports such as illegal dumping on-line.

Street Name Signs

In addition to the warning and regulatory signs there are thousands of street name signs that must be kept up in accordance with the 911 Addressing System. Inspectors, foremen, and citizens report the largest number of missing / damaged signs during their routine travels along the County's roadways. The Traffic Control Supervisor is responsible for assuring signage is in place and properly installed. Work activities also include sign post replacement, vandalism repair, removal of graffiti etc. The Department recently purchased the equipment needed to complete street name signs in-house, but it still needs to annually bid contracts for the balance of new and replacement signage. The life span of a street name sign is between 5-15 years depending on sign type, materials used and exposure. Corresponding manufacturer warrantee periods range from 7-10 years. Approximately 350 replacement signs are ordered from vendors each year. In July 2001, the DPW&T was required to begin replacing missing or damaged private road name signs at intersections with County and State-maintained roads.

Beginning in 2011, the Division will begin addressing the Federal Highway Administration's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) compliance requirement that all signs have 6" upper case letters, 4 1/2 inch lower case letter sizes for ground-mounted street name signs on roads that are not multi-lane streets with speed limits greater than 40 mph. The County has until January 2012 to upgrade those signs, and until 2018 to upgrade the street name signs to 8" uppercase/6" lower case on multi-lane roads (4 to 6 through lanes) over 40 MPH, like MD5 / MD235. Those roads are our second priority. The next priority will be to address roads with speed limits of 40 MPH and less, where we will have to change the lettering size to 6" upper case with 4.5" lower case. Programmatically, we will be upgrading the size as we replace signs due to vandalism and accidents, but there is no mandatory compliance deadline established. There is a provision that allows 4" upper case and 3" lower case for streets with a 25 MPH speed limit, but during our review of a pilot project installation, we feel the letters are too small to read so we will only use that letter size in rare situations. There are a total of 401 signs that need to be replaced on roads with a speed limit over 40 MPH, for a total of about $18,400.

Private Road Signs

In 1999, the Department of Public Works & Transportation installed approximately 602 private road signs in an effort to assist the Emergency Management Agency in their compliance efforts. These signs were acquired under 911 funding as a part of the local street addressing program. All signs, posts and brackets were directly paid by this special Program funding. With enhanced systems, street name sign costs should be recovered through funds allotted to the address portion of the telephone system. And with non-enhanced systems, signage may be paid for as a non-recurring cost, with surplus funds recovered from the telephone bill surcharge. Effective July 2001, the Department also took on the responsibility of replacing private road signs at intersections with County and State roadways.

Safety Considerations

In 1998, high intensity and diamond grade quality signage was added to the specifications for improved safety to reduce risk of liability claims, improve visibility, provide better reflectivity (candlepower), increase durability and value. The decision was made following a field demonstration on June 9, 1988. By purchasing signs that will retain their brightness for years to come, maintenance dollars and operational costs can be drastically reduced. To assist in safety and emergency response the Department is also beginning to implement new easier-to-read signs for its street and road sign replacement programs with a larger sign and increased lettering size.

Neighborhood Watch

Contacting the police or sheriff is a simple 911 phone call away--your neighbors are also right across the street and on every side of you. Studies show one of the best things neighbors can do to improve the quality of life where they live is to start and continue an active Neighborhood Watch program. When many residents in an area display Neighborhood Watch signs and door decals, it sends a clear and forceful message that the people living in the neighborhood are paying attention and ready phone local enforcement when they see any suspicious people or activities. No one knows a neighborhood better and has more interest in keep it it safe and secure than the people who live there. Posting a Neighborhood Watch Sign can help bring your neighborhood together to fight crime and keep your streets the safest they can be. Neighborhood watch signs can provide a measure of comfort to the community while warning criminals that the community participates in crime awareness and crime fighting. In February 2013, the DPW&T began purchasing a limited number of Neighborhood Watch signs to assist neighborhoods in establishing their own localized programs. Signage is limited and will be distributed upon request and on a case-by-case basis.

Children at Play / Deaf Child Signs

The DPW&T will not install or allow to be installed CHILDREN AT PLAY or DEAF CHILD signs on public streets or adjacent private properties. Installation of these signs implies that they provide some added measure of safety-which they do not. These signs have not been shown to increase driver awareness and are not recognized as standard highway signs by the Federal Highway Administration. The St. Mary's County Department of Public Works & Transportation encourages children not to play on public streets. In addition, the Motor Vehicle Law requires that the same sign standards used on public roadways be implemented on private streets. In some locations, PLAYGROUND WARNING signs may be appropriate to warn motorists of unexpected pedestrian activity adjacent to recreational area(s).

In accordance with Maryland Motor Vehicle Law Title 21 - Subtitle 2 -Section 21-205, Display of unauthorized signs, signals, or markings:

  1. General prohibition. A person may not place, maintain, or display on or in view of any highway any unauthorized sign, signal, marking, or device that purports to be, is an imitation of, or resembles a traffic control device or a railroad sign or signal.
  2. Signs, etc., directing movement of traffic. A person may not place, maintain, or display on or in view of any highway any unauthorized sign, signal, marking, or device that attempts to direct the movement of traffic.
  3. Signs, etc., interfering with effectiveness of traffic control devices or railroad signs. A person may not place, maintain, or display on or in view of any highway any unauthorized sign, signal, marking, or device that hides or interferes with the effectiveness of a traffic control device or a railroad sign or signal.
  4. Placing signs, etc., except as otherwise permitted by law. A person may not place, maintain, or display on or in view of any highway any unauthorized sign, signal, marking, or device that, except as otherwise permitted by law, contains:
    1. Any of the following words: "stop", "curve", "warning", "slow", "danger", "listen", "look", or "school"; or
    2. Any other word used in directing the movement of traffic.
  5. Commercial advertising prohibited. A person may not place or maintain on any highway nor may any public authority permit on any highway any traffic sign or signal that has any commercial advertising on it.
  6. Erection on private property of certain directional signs permitted. This section does not prohibit the placement on private property adjacent to a highway of a sign giving useful directional information, if the sign is of a type that cannot be mistaken for an official sign and is placed with the approval of the State Highway Administration.
  7. Prohibited signs, etc., a public nuisance. Each sign, signal, marking, or device prohibited by this section is a public nuisance, and the authority that has jurisdiction over the highway may remove it without notice.

Theft & Vandalism

Damage and theft of signs is more than just a costly problem, it represents a public safety issue for the entire community. The penalties for theft under $300, as outlined in Article 27, Section 342 of the Annotated Code of Maryland provides for a $500 fine and imprisonment not to exceed eighteen (18) months. Penalties for theft over $300, which is considered a felony, are a fine of $1,000 and imprisonment not to exceed fifteen (15) years, or both. To report an incident, the Sheriff's Office may be reached at (301) 475-8008, or you may call Crime Solvers anonymously at (301) 475-3333. Additionally, citizens may call the Leonardtown Barracks of the Maryland State Police at (301) 475-8955. If you notice any signage that is lost, stolen or damaged, please contact our County Highways Division at (301) 475-4200 of fill out our Maintenance Request Form.


Last year graffiti artists "hit" numerous signs. Although graffiti normally doesn't present a safety factor, we don't take it lightly. The DPW&T has a strong anti-graffiti program and we respond quickly. If the problem persists and continues to escalate, we may begin to require more costly durable graffiti resistant sign inks be included as a part of the fabrication process. Without taking special measures such as this, a much larger percentage of these signs might have to be replaced.

MUTCD Specifications

Being consistent with signs and markings – using the same types in similar situations – is critical in the effective use of traffic control devices. Sight distance, alignment and placement of any sign must be in accordance with general traffic engineering practices and in compliance with the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), first published by the FHWA in 1927.Through the Federal Register , the Federal Highway Administration requires that Counties maintain compliance with the Manual and has established a series of compliance deadlines, most of which have been phased-in through December 22, 2013.


Beginning in 1999, identification / dating stickers will be placed on the back of all newly installed signs to denote St. Mary's County Department of Public Works ownership and to date the installation for use in the Program's inspection and replacement database. A vandalism warning specifically stating that "It is unlawful to remove or detach any official road sign or traffic control device-punishable by fine and/or imprisonment" is also affixed. It is requested that anyone aware of or witnessing any damage to road signs immediately report same to the Department.

Neighborhood Identification Signs

A policy to permit neighborhood / homeowner associations to have identification signs installed to identify their neighborhood was approved by the Director in April 2001 The current cost is $50.00 per location. For more information, contact us at (301) 475-4200.

Illegal Road Signs

A growing issue in our community is the use of community signs/notices to advertise yard sales, real estate and other community events. While the signs often serve a useful purpose, they also contribute to the litter problem and visual clutter of our neighborhoods. Signs are a serious distraction and safety hazard for motorists and pedestrians. Anyone placing signs on private property should obtain permission from the owner. Signs should be placed and removed on a timely basis. As the responsible agency for signs in St. Mary's County, complaints relating to road signs should be directed to the County Department of Permits and Inspections or to the DPW&T who will forward your request.

Children at Play Signs

The law does not allow us to place such signs in the road right-of-ways. In particular, the Federal Highway Administration, in its Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, that we follow, does not sanction the use of "Children at Play" signs. Studies indicate that these types of non-standard signs have been proven neither to change driver behavior nor to do anything to improve the safety of children in a traffic setting. Some of the reasoning is that the presence of a "Children at Play" sign infers that there aren't children at play in other locations or that the signs encourage the idea that the street is to / can be used as a play area. In general, it is hoped that if you are driving in an area where children are actually playing (say in a residential neighborhood), that you will notice them before you notice a sign warning you of them.