The new law, which took effect Saturday, gives companies a three-month grace period to remove all commercial signs from the medians and right-of-way areas along state roads before the state does it for them, for a fine of $25 per sign.
The law targets illegal real estate ads, as well as all-too-common fliers for weight loss clinics, towing services or singles websites that litter the intersections and telephone polls by state roads, such as Route 1 and Rockville Pike.
Officials with the administration say they spend more than $600,000 every year removing illegal signs from roadways, where they can be a distraction to drivers looking for real traffic signs.
Signs along state highways have always been illegal, but the highway officials never had any teeth to back up the law, according to spokesman David Buck.
"It's a 365-day-a-year issue for us, and now there's at least some deterrent in the law to prevent this from keep happening over and over," Buck said.
The highway administration doesn't estimate it will generate much revenue from the fines, but the time and money saved by not sending out crews to pick up illegal signs along more than 17,000 miles of state roads are worth it, Buck said.
The law does not apply to campaign signs, many of which still litter roads in Prince George's County since a special primary election was held in September to replace former County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson.
Though they stand to be affected the most by the new law, real estate agents generally support the new rule, according to officials at the Maryland Association of Realtors.
The $25 per sign fine is a reasonable amount, they say, and signs can still be posted as long as they're not within 500 feet of a state road, according to Mark Feinroth, director or regulatory affairs for the group.
"It's always been against the law to post signs in the right-of-way that obscure a driver's vision," Feinroth said. "Our view was that most of the our guys understand what the law is and follow it."
State highway officials say they will post stickers on illegal signs warning businesses to remove them before Jan. 1, when the fines take effect.