Public has a say in billboard height limits

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas countryside could be dotted with billboards up to 65 feet tall under a rule revision being considered by the Texas Transportation Commission.

A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at the Texas Department of Transportation’s headquarters in Austin.

Current regulations allow a billboard height of 42.5 feet. The taller billboards would be allowed along Texas interstate and primary highways in rural and unincorporated areas, not places governed by municipal billboard requirements.

Outdoor advertising industry groups told the department that the increase is needed to make the signs visible over treetops and from a distance by motorists driving 70 mph.

But highway beautification advocates say the change would reverse a half-century of progress made since President Lyndon Johnson and first lady Lady Bird Johnson first backed restricting the outdoor advertising signs that blighted the countryside.

“They wanted to preserve the beauty of Texas,” said Margaret Lloyd, vice president of Scenic Texas, a nonprofit group that monitors state sign rules. “That’s why some people around here are so passionate about it.”

Chris Cornwell of Scenic Comal County, a Scenic Texas chapter, also questions the proposed changes.

“Raising the height of Texas billboards serves no public purpose,” Cornwell said. “Billboards are already a driver distraction at the current height, cause nighttime light pollution in rural areas and can have a negative impact on natural wildlife habitats. Furthermore, billboards create visual pollution, spoil scenic views and degrade taxpayers’ investment in public highways.”

But leaders of the sign industry say those feelings are overblown.

“If the size of the sign stays the same but the height increases, I don’t see much of a difference,” said Mike Perez of Sign City in Webster.

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