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Scenic America Sues FHWA to Overturn Billboard Ruling

Recently, Scenic America filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking to overturn a 2007 Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) ruling that has allowed for the proliferation of commercial digital billboards along the nation’s federal highways.

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The suit alleges that FHWA’s 2007 guidance violates the lighting standards for billboards established under the Highway Beautification Act (HBA). The HBA established standards for billboards along federal highways that limited intermittent lighting for commercial messaging on billboards in nearly all states, except for public service information such as time, day, temperature, and the like. Other public service information allowed includes messages such amber alerts, silver alerts, law enforcement messages, traffic warnings, and other hazardous messages, but would not include commercial messages.

In 2007, FHWA issued a guidance memorandum to the HBA that stated that “a changing message through the use of lighting was not considered to be intermittent if the message changed in the range of every 4–10 seconds.” This memorandum allowed states to allow TV-like commercial messages to be displayed along federal highways so long as the message did not change more frequently than every four seconds.

Since the FHWA’s 2007 guidance the number of digital commercial billboards has significantly risen. According to the Outdoor Advertising Association for America, the number of digital billboards on interstate highways has gone from 1,800 to 4,000 since 2010. Most of these displays operate along federal highways regulated under the HBA. In many instances digital billboards distract drivers, thereby creating unsafe driving conditions. Digital billboards also have the ability to diminish the visual quality of the natural and built environment and contribute to visual clutter.

Scenic America is asking for help with their fight against FHWA’s 2007 guidance by urging concerned citizens to sign a petition to President Barack Obama and Senate and House of Representatives leadership asking them to take steps to have FHWA enforce the letter and spirit of the Highway Beautification Act. You can take action to help Scenic America with this petition here. Learn more about ASLA’s Billboards and Signage and Visual Resources public policies.

Comments
carlos@rodriguesurbandesign.com March 5, 2013 8:53 PM
This lawsuit may have merit with respect to rural highways, where there are scenic values to protect. But we have many highways in dense urban and suburban conditions, where motorists travel at low speed through built environments with low scenic value. Graphically interesting billboards would enhance their travel experience. Pedestrians and bike riders might enjoy them as well. Large format graphic displays in urban areas are perfectly acceptable. They provide a visually stimulating backdrop for building sites under construction, and they can help camouflage places where the architecture is just drab. So maybe a more discriminating and fine-tuned lawsuit would be in order.
gumpfam@centurylink.net March 11, 2013 11:03 AM
Billboards are cool, informative, and a welcome resource. Too much litigation, billboard placement should be determined on a case by case basis, if there are any complaintants directly affected.
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