Sign, sign, everywhere a government sign

December 2nd, 2016
by Vicki Huntington

In November 2012, the provincial government installed five signs along Highway 99 to announce that construction was starting on a replacement of the George Massey Tunnel... in five years' time.

There have been signs up ever since, so when a constituent asked just how much the highway advertisements actually cost, my office decided to try and find out. Naturally, it took a freedom of information request to get the answer.

The government says the 2012 signs were a necessary consultation tool that "invited public participation." According to invoices obtained via that freedom of information request, it cost $16,331 to have those signs installed, although printing costs were not disclosed.

The Massey signs that are up right now were a special order in 2014, and were a pricey $60,598 for production and installation. So that's at least $77,000 spent on advertising the tunnel replacement.

Of course we all know the signs were not simply a consultation tool: they were pre-election advertising targeted at commuters. Their primary function has always been to create some sliver of hope that while you might be stuck in traffic right now, there is an uncongested future awaiting you.

And it's the same story all over the province: signs with project start dates that are years away. These are then altered with the red, "project completed" signs that are slapped on top of the old ones.

These signs are a form of government advertising, and unreported government advertising at that. They are not included in the government's provincial advertising budget and cost details are not available to the public.

It's anyone's guess as to the total amount government spends each year on project signs across the province. Our office was told the government doesn't have information showing where all these temporary signs are located, and we've also been told they don't keep centralized data on how much the government is spending to print, install, maintain and remove these signs each year.

Based on information my office has obtained, however, the costs may be around half a million dollars or more each year.

According to Queen's Printer, an average of $167,000 was spent printing project signs in 2014 and 2015, excluding special orders like the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project. Invoices we obtained suggest that at least as much is spent on installation, with removal representing an additional cost on top of that.

Half a million dollars may not seem like a lot when you're talking about $44-billion budgets, but it's still a sneaky way to keep government advertising spending off the books. Whether it is a prudent use of public money is another question.

Published in the Delta Optimist.

Background information and freedom of information documents:

  • Queen’s Printer says that a run-of-the-mill generic project sign costs about $850, not including installation and maintenance. The average cost for all signs is likely less than this, based on the invoices we’ve seen for cheaper signs.
  • According to Queen’s Printer, the government spent $175,655 to print those generic highway project signs in 2015, and $158,182 in 2014 (an average of $166,919). At $850 per sign we would be looking at 196 new signs a year. Given that cheaper signs are also printed, the actual number of signs is likely much higher.
  • With an average installation cost of $1,214 (see information below), it would cost $237,944 to install 196 project signs.
  • Removing 196 signs would cost $44,100.
  • If you figure on only one Massey-style special order a year ($60,598), the annual cost for all these expenses is $509,561.
  • Given the existence of the cheaper signs mentioned earlier, the total expenses are likely higher, given increased installation and removal costs.

Installation and Removal

2012 Massey sign installation invoices:

  • Installing five signs: $11,705
  • Average cost to install one sign: $2,341

31 January 2014 Invoice from Sparker Construction:

  • Installing Highway Project signs: $800 each
  • Installing “End of Project” signs: $500 each
  • Remove two-post signs: $350 each
  • Removing existing signs: $100 each

Average sign removal cost using above figures: $225 ($44,100 for 196 signs)

Average sign installation cost using above figures: $1,214 ($237,944 for 196 signs)

2014 Massey Signs (Special Order)

12 February 2014 purchase order from Ministry of Transportation:

  • Aluminum sign costs: $24,268

31 March 2014 invoice from Mainroad:

  • Installation: $36,330

Total cost for Massey special order: $60,598

MLA Huntington - Highway Project Sign Invoices FOI by VickiHuntingtonMLA on Scribd