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Q: Why do municipalities put the population on their signs, and how often are they updated?

A: Not only is the population not required to be on the sign, there is no requirement for there be a sign at all, according to Dave Vieth, director of the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Highway Operations.

"But municipalities like having their names out there and we typically get pressure to update those population numbers after a census year. In 2011 we will have communities telling us they want their signs updated and we haven't decided yet if we have the resources to do that," he said.

"We have a process that allows a local government to update these signs if they agree to meet the DOT's standards and obtain permission from the regional traffic engineer to do so," he said.

The state is obligated only to erect and maintain and pay for signs on state highways, Vieth noted, but all highway signs have to conform to uniform standards.

According to the DOT's internal highway sign manual, the DOT will maintain standard population signs with the official current census figures.

If a city or village requests a population update, the DOT's regional traffic engineer may authorize the municipality to modify the numbers with a white on green Type H adhesive overlay, using the same size and font as the original sign.

If the city or village requests authority to take responsibility for the population signs, the engineer can authorize the municipality to replace and maintain the signs.

Communities are free to update the population signs that are not on state highways, but that often results in different numbers depending on which avenue a motorist enters a community because the sign on a state highway would not be updated as frequently as the sign the locality updates. The DOT prefers updates come from an appropriate agency, such as the state Department of Administration, which issues annual population updates.

The municipalities are not required to have a sign, but the state prefers a sign for all places that are on the official map, which is why some unincorporated spots have signs.

There are 2,087 state-supplied identifying signs, said Vieth.

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