Mauston ‘welcome’ signs not welcome on state highways

City of Mauston officials are trying to find private property to put new welcome signs on after Department of Transportation officials said their current signs aren’t allowed on state right-of-way.

Mauston had four signs created saying “Welcome to Mauston” earlier this year to put at the four major gateways to the community. They spent $10,000 having the signs made, and then applied to the DOT to have them placed along state highways.

“Unfortunately, welcome is not an acceptable word,” Mauston City Administrator Nathan Thiel said. “I wish I could explain more, but I don’t understand it myself.”

The signs are currently sitting in a public works shed while the city figures out where they are allowed to put them.

John Steiner, southwest regions operations chief for the DOT, said under a long-standing policy, “welcome to” is considered an advertisement.

“Why those words are, I do not know, but there are some guidelines and stuff that we have that it’s not so much for us to understand, but we have to follow the policy we have in front of us,” Steiner said.

Thiel said they didn’t ask the state what was allowed prior to having the signs made.

“You drive into Wisconsin, and there are ‘Welcome to Wisconsin’ signs in the right of way, so we didn’t think that this would be an issue,” Thiel said.

Steiner said the DOT is now trying to help the city find private property or even sell it easements to for the signs.

“What we really want to encourage is any of the communities out there that want to place signs and enhance their community, and we’re not against that. We just want to make sure we do it as completely and fairly to everybody as we can,” Steiner said.

Republican State Rep. Ed Brooks, R-Reedsburg, is currently drafting a bill that would allow cities to use the words “welcome to” on signs in easements.

DOT officials said they will be meeting with the Mauston officials this week to consider new locations for the signs.