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Billboard FAQs

What special sign programs are available to businesses that serve travelers and tourists?

Businesses serving travelers and tourists can have signs erected along Michigan highways and state roads under two programs offered by the MDOT.

The Tourist Oriented Directional Signs (TODS) program provides directional signs for eligible tourist attractions located off the state rural roadway system.

The Specific Services Signing Program (also known as Logo Signing) permits eligible businesses to place their logos on specific service sign panels that identify key services along designated freeways.

Get the criteria about these programs at Michigan Logos, Inc., 517-337-2267 or 888-645-6467.

Are there any exemptions for certain signs?

On-premises signs and official signs are exempt from the permit requirement. An on-premises sign is a sign advertising activities conducted or maintained on the property on which it is located. An official sign is erected within a municipality, by the municipality or governmental entity, for non-commercial purposes, and maintained by the local governmental entity.

What is an interim permit?

An interim permit is not for a specific location. It allows a permit holder to apply for a location anywhere in the State of Michigan to erect a sign. MDOT shall issue an interim permit or permits to a holder of a valid permit or permits if the following conditions are met:

  • The permit is a current valid permit and meets the requirements of the Highway Advertising Act, as amended.
  • The valid permit or permits are surrendered to the department upon the removal of the sign structures.
  • The permit holder verifies removal of the sign structures.

An interim permit is also transferrable. A permit holder can transfer an interim permit.

If I hold a permit, what is the process to apply for a new location?

If the permit holder has an interim permit, and has determined a proposed location, they can apply on-line using the interim permit(s). If the permit holder has a permit associated with a built sign, the sign and sign structure would need to be removed, and that permit exchanged for an interim permit. Prior to applying for a location approval, the permit holder should be aware that the location needs to meet, but is not limited to, the following requirements:

  • 1,000 feet spacing between permitted signs along freeways and interstate
  • 500 feet spacing between permitted signs along non-freeway
  • Landowner consent (proposed location cannot be within the right of way)
  • Zoning of commercial, industrial or business (if the location is beyond 1 mile of an incorporated municipality, it shall be within 800 feet of an active commercial or industrial business on the same side of the highway)
  • If the location is unzoned, it shall be within 800 feet of an active commercial or industrial business on the same side of the highway
  • $100 application fee per application (processing fee of $2 will also be applied). Each face of the sign requires a permit.

What do I need to do to cut or trim trees or shrubs in front of my sign?

MDOT accepts applications for vegetation removal or trimming anytime during the year. Applying for a permit is a three-step process:

  1. Obtain a Billboard Survey Permit to survey the billboard’s viewing zone;
  2.  Conduct a survey of the billboard’s viewing zone to mark the proposed Vegetation Removal Area (VRA), flag the vegetation proposed for removal or trimming, and create the necessary documentation for the BVM Permit application; and
  3. Apply for an BVM Permit.

For more information and instructions on how to apply, visit the MDOT website.

Can I submit an application or renew my permits online?

Effective July 1, 2010, permit holders must apply for permit(s), renew, or transfer permit(s) on-line. New or existing permit holders will register through the MDOT Permit Gateway (MPG) to access the Internet Highway Advertising Program (IHAP). For more information, visit the MPG page.

What are the zoning requirements to erect a sign?

In order to meet the requirements of the Highway Advertising Act of 1972 as amended, a proposed sign location shall meet the following zoning requirements:

  • Business, commercial, industrial, manufacturing or service within a city, village, or charter township or within 1 mile of the corporate limits of a city, village, or charter township; OR
  • Beyond 1 mile of the corporate limits of a city, village or charter township and shall contain one or more permanent structures devoted to industrial or commercial purposes which is within 800 feet of the activity on the same side of the road. Activities of a business or commercial nature shall be in continuous operation for at least 2 years to be considered a permanent structure; OR
  • Unzoned commercial or industrial areas shall contain one or more permanent structures devoted to industrial or commercial purposes, which is within 800 feet of the activity on the same side of the road. Activities of a business or commercial nature shall be in continuous operation for at least 2 years to be considered a permanent structure.
  • The following activities are not considered commercial or industrial:
    • Agricultural, animal husbandry, forestry, grazing, farming, and related activities, including, but not limited to, wayside fresh produce stands.
    • Transient or temporary activities.
    • Activities not visible from the main-traveled way.
    • Activities conducted in a building principally used as a residence, or in a building located on property that is used principally for residential purposes or for the activities in subparagraph (i).
    • Railroad tracks and minor sidings.
    • Outdoor advertising.
    • Activities more than 660 feet from the main-traveled way.
    • Activities that have not been in continuous operation of a business or commercial nature for at least 2 years.
    • Public utility facilities, whether regularly staffed or not.
    • Structures associated with on-site outdoor recreational activities such as riding stables, golf course shops, and campground offices.
    • Activities conducted in a structure for which an occupancy permit   has not been   issued or that is not a fully enclosed building, having all necessary utility service and sanitary facilities required for its intended commercial or industrial use.
    • A storage facility for a business or other activity not located on the same    property, except a storage building having at least 10 separate units that are available for rent by the public.
    • A temporary business solely established to qualify as commercial or industrial activity under this act.

Zoning that is not part of a comprehensive zoning plan and is taken primarily to permit outdoor advertising structures shall not be accepted.

What are the spacing requirements?

The minimum distance required from one sign to the next on the same side of the highway or roadway, regardless of which way the sign faces, is as follows:

  • Along interstate highways and freeways, 1,000 feet to another sign structure on the same side of the highway.
  • Along primary highways, 500 feet to another sign structure on the same side of the highway.
  • Digital signs shall be spaced at least 1,750 feet between the next permitted digital sign on either side of the highway facing the same sign direction of travel.

When signs are located outside of incorporated municipalities, a sign structure shall not be permitted adjacent to or within 500 feet of an interchange, an intersection at grade or a safety roadside rest area. A municipality is an incorporated city, an incorporated village, or a charter township.

What happens if I am not approved for a permit?

MDOT will send you a letter explaining why your proposed location does not qualify for a state permit. If you disagree with the denial, you may request a hearing in front of the Administrative Law Judge at the Michigan Administrative Hearing System within 60 days of the denial.

What happens if I am approved to construct a sign?

You will receive location approval from the MDOT stating that you have one year from the date of location approval to construct your sign. If the sign is not constructed within that timeframe, the location approval expires and you will need to submit new applications. If the sign is constructed, the applicant will notify MDOT of completion. MDOT will confirm compliance with the approval. Permits will then be issued.

The permit holder, at their own expense, shall place all permits issued on each sign facing or sign structure. The permit number or permit numbers shall be visible from the highway faced by the sign or sign structure and shall be at least 4 inches in height. If the permit issued is for a religious or service club sign, the numbers shall be at least 2 inches in height.

What are the application and permit fees?

The application fee (for each side of a sign) is as follows:

  • $100 - static sign
  • $300 - digital sign (new construction)
  • $200 – existing sign converted to digital

Permit fees are as follows:

  • Commercial Permit
    • $50 (up to 300 square feet)
    • $80 (over 300 square feet)
  • Digital Permit - $200
  • Interim Permit - $80

When does a permit expire?

Expiration dates are on a quarterly system for the year to provide for a more even workload for the MDOT staff. The expiration dates will be the last day of March, June, September or December. A prorating of the renewal fee will be made for permits that fall on quarter that does not match the assigned expiration dates. This typically happens when permits are transferred to another.

When a permit or permits expire, a Notice of Non-Payment - 60 Day Compliance will be sent by certified mail to the permit holder. The permit holder shall pay the amount due or cancel the permit or permits and remove the sign and sign structure. MDOT shall cancel the permit should one of the foregoing is not completed within 60 days from the expiration date.

What is the process for renewing a permit?

An annual application for sign permit renewal will be e-mailed to the permit holder 60 days prior to the permit(s) expiration date.

If renewal fees are not paid on-line by the permit(s) expiration, the annual renewal fee for each permit shall increase by an additional $50.00. If the annual renewal fee for any permit is not paid on-line within 60 days after the permit expiration date, the department shall cancel the permit.

Payment is required to be made on-line by e-check or credit card (Mastercard, Visa or Discover). There is a $2.00 processing fee added to the payment. 

If I sell my sign, how can I transfer the permits?

Sign permits and interim permits are transferrable. The transfer shall be completed on-line. If the purchaser does not have an on-line account, a new account will need to be created. Instructions and information on registering a new account can be found on the MDOT website. Transfer Instructions can also be found here.

In accordance with Section 252.307(4) of the Highway Advertising Act of 1972, as amended, a transfer fee of $100 shall be assessed for each permit requested to be transferred, up to a maximum of $500 for a request that identifies five or more permits. If the department incurs additional costs directly attributable to special and unique circumstances associated with the requested transfer, the department may assess a transfer fee greater than the maximums identified in this subsection to recover those costs incurred by the department.

What happens if I need to remove my sign?

If you remove the sign to repair it or remove it for a season and intend to put it back, please inform MDOT. If you receive a violation letter regarding your sign, you may have the option to apply for a permit. If the sign location does not qualify for a permit, and the sign is required to be removed, you will either need to remove the sign and sign structure within the timeframe specified in the violation letter or request an administrative hearing.

If you have been ordered by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to remove your sign, you are to remove it within the time frame prescribed in the ALJ's Order. If you do not remove the sign and the removal falls on MDOT, the sign owner or the landowner (if the sign owner cannot be found) will be charged double the cost of removal or $500, whichever is greater.

How do I get a permit for a sign/billboard along the highway?

MDOT has not issued new permits for signs since January 1, 2007. This means that an applicant cannot begin an application for a new location without holding an interim permit and using that interim permit to begin the application process. To obtain a permit, one would need to purchase it from an existing permit holder. Inquiries related to existing permit holders can be directed to Melissa Staffeld at 517-335-2209.


Melissa Staffeld, Billboard Coordination Specialist