Why are blue road signs popping up all over town advertising RoxyAnn Winery and Harry and David Country Village? How is this fair to other businesses? What gives them entitlement to special advertising?

Why are blue road signs popping up all over town advertising RoxyAnn Winery and Harry and David Country Village? How is this fair to other businesses? What gives them entitlement to special advertising?

— Sam S., Medford

Any business that offers cultural, historical, recreational, educational or entertainment activities to tourists and is located near a highway could be entitled to those blue signs pointing out their location.

The signs, known by the snappy name of "tourist-oriented directional signs," are offered by the Oregon Travel Information Council. That semi-independent state agency was founded in 1972 to point out places to travelers. It's funded by selling that very service to businesses that want tourists steered their way. In addition to the blue directional signs, the council offers logo signs for gas, food, lodging, camping and attractions along freeways, space for brochures at welcome centers and rest areas, and online listings at www.tripcheck.com.

To be eligible for the blue signs, businesses must derive a major portion of their income from tourism, said Diane Cheyne, the council's sign service coordinator. They must be close, usually within a mile, of a secondary highway such as Highways 99, 62, and 140 in Jackson County, but not be visible from the highway. They must have rest rooms, drinking water, parking and any license required for that type of business. They must be open at least six hours a day, six days a week.

Across Oregon, such signs point the way to galleries, museums, wineries, golf courses, amusement parks, jet boat tours and all manner of unusual local businesses, Cheyne said.

"That's the one that gets a little tricky," she said of the "unusual commercial activity" category.

Such businesses must sell products that are unique to the area and there must be no similar store within 50 miles, she said.

Interested businesses must fill out a four-page application describing their qualifications. The travel information council reviews the application, as does the Oregon Department of Transportation. The signs technically are classified as traffic control devices and must meet all regulations set by the Federal Highway Administration and state. That means there are limits on signs in urban areas, where other, more important instructions to drivers take precedent, and in areas thick with tourist attractions, such as the Oregon Coast, where businesses already have paid signs and no new signs can be posted.

The rates businesses pay annually for the signs is set by how much traffic ODOT calculates will pass on that highway, Cheyne said.

For loads of information about this sign program and others offered by the council, see www.oregontic.com.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.