Wisconsin Department of Transportation

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Outdoor advertising

Installation permit | Annual fee | License to erect signs

Typical outdoor advertising signs along a Wisconsin highway

State and federal highway beautification laws say it is in the public interest "to promote the safety, convenience and enjoyment of public travel, to preserve the natural beauty of Wisconsin, to aid in the free flow of interstate commerce, to protect the public investment in highways, and to conform to the expressed intent of Congress to control the erection and maintenance of outdoor advertising signs."

Outdoor advertising includes, but is not limited to:

  • Billboards
  • Service club and religious notices
  • Directional signs

Installation permit

A permit is required to erect an outdoor advertising sign on private lands that is visible from a state or federal highway. The permit stays in effect as long as the sign continues to meet legal requirements.

A non-refundable permit application fee of $175 is required for most types of signs. Some sign categories are exempt from the application fee, including service club and religious notices and official signs erected by public officers or agencies.

To obtain an outdoor advertising installation permit

The regional coordinator may refer you to a checklist, depending on the sign's category. The checklist will help you prepare your permit application.

Annual fee

In addition to the permit application fee, an annual fee applies to most outdoor advertising signs. Annual fee notices are automatically sent to sign owners on record with the department.

The annual fee is $35 for most signs. However, an annual fee of $50 applies to directional, nonconforming, and grandfathered signs. Nonconforming and grandfathered signs are signs that were installed prior to the state's 1972 sign control law or were erected legally after the law was enacted, but that no longer meet the requirements for a new sign permit.

Exemptions from the annual fee

Several types of signs are exempt from the annual fee. These include:

  • Service club and religious signs of eight square feet or less
  • Farm signs
  • On-premise signs
  • Real estate signs on the property for sale, except along interstates
  • Official signs erected by public officers or agencies
  • Signs owned by certain nonprofit organizations

License to erect signs

An annual license fee of $250 is required of any person or company that erects more than two signs, whether on-premise or off property, in Wisconsin in a calendar year. An annual license is also required when a person or company maintains one or more existing signs, whether on-premise or off property, in a calendar year. Persons erecting signs advertising their own business are exempt from the annual license fee.

To obtain a license to erect outdoor advertising signs

For more information, contact:

Regional Outdoor Advertising Program Coordinators

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