Okanogan County contemplates costs for marking accessible roads
By Marcy Stamper
Okanogan County wanted to make it simple for all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riders to know where they can and cannot go.
Envisioned were 6-inch green dots at the beginning of a road open to wheeled ATVs, and a red dot where the route ended, with white letters for “ATV” inside each dot, said County Engineer Josh Thomson.
The county was hoping to get funding from the state to help pay for the signs, but the 2013 law that expanded opportunities for ATV riding — and created the wheeled ATV — is very specific about the type of signs the state can pay for, said Melanie Vance, environmental manager for local programs at the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
“It’s a dedicated fund, but the purpose is not so much for the benefit of ATV users. It’s oriented toward safety issues that arise with conflicts between the motoring public and the ATV community,” said Vance.
Okanogan County’s reason for posting signs — to assist ATV riders with route finding and protect environmentally sensitive areas — was not contemplated in the state law.
“It’s frustrating — our hands are kind of tied, because we were given pretty strict guidelines about what we can use the money for,” said Vance.
The signs Okanogan County posted two years ago — based on the two ATV ordinances that had to be rescinded — used the state’s icon for what is officially an off-road vehicle (ORV), which doesn’t have the additional safety features that qualifies something as a wheeled ATV. Wheeled ATVs also must get a special license and registration. Some of the license fees go toward the grants for signs.
In fact, Okanogan County is one of a few jurisdictions in the state — along with the towns of Sultan and Mossyrock — that applied for and received grants through the program, said Vance. The signs on Highway 20 over the Loup that warn about wheeled ATVs crossing were paid for by the program, said Thomson.
The county can develop its own signs, but if the state were designing a standardized symbol, they’d rather use that, Thomson said. If a local jurisdiction creates a design, WSDOT would want it to be consistent statewide, said Vance.
While the green and red dots would be less expensive and the majority could be affixed to existing signposts, it would still be a considerable investment for the county to mark all the ATV routes.
With 200 road segments in the ordinance and two signs at each end (one in each direction), plus signs for side roads, Thomson said the county would need 800 to 900 signs. He estimated the cost of each dot at $15, plus another $15 or $20 for installation, so complete signage for the routes would be from $24,000 to $31,000 — just for District 3.
The county still has the old ORV signs it used a few years ago. Thomson said he didn’t know how many there are and said the county hadn’t separated out the cost of the signs.
The state signs warning ATVs are present are even more expensive. WSDOT estimates the cost of making them at $21 per square foot so, depending on the size, the signs would range from $83 to $129, and almost double that with installation.
State law doesn’t require the county to sign the roads, said County Commissioner Andy Hover. Riders are responsible for consulting the lists and maps on the county’s website, just as hunters must know when they are on public or private land, he said.
But the county’s ATV ordinance requires signage and enforcement, including extra signs near environmentally sensitive areas.