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Bills aim to preserve billboards on Mo. interstates

Monday, December 31, 2007 | 5:56 p.m. CST; updated 7:32 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

KANSAS CITY — The billboard industry wants the state to move instead of demolish old billboards when the eventual reconstruction of interstates 70 and 40 begins.

Most of the billboards along the interstates were put up before the legislature and numerous Missouri cities imposed stricter limits on their size and placement. That means the state would have to buy many of the billboards for a hefty price and tear them down when transportation officials make changes to the interstates.

“You’re talking thousands of billboards,” said William May, a Springfield lawyer and executive director of the Missouri Outdoor Advertising Association. He said it has been roughly estimated that each billboard would fetch an average of about $100,000.

One bill prefiled with the legislature seeks to address the issue by making more signs conform with regulations. It would allow about 70 percent of the billboards to be moved instead of demolished.

A bill proposed by May’s association essentially calls for reinstating billboard standards from 1998, before the legislature made the first major revisions to the regulations. The earlier standards would apply only to existing billboards and would expire when highway construction ends.

A second bill that has the backing of the outdoor advertising industry would, in effect, reclassify billboards not under the jurisdiction of a local ordinance as “conforming.” Reclassifying currently nonconforming billboards would mean they could be enhanced with features such as digital or tri-vision technology.

Billboards along interstates and primary roads, such as roads with highway numbers, would be affected.

Backers tout the savings to taxpayers, while opponents say the measures disrespect communities that passed tougher rules.

John Regenbogen, executive director of Scenic Missouri, said the cost of buying the old billboards would be a tiny, but worthwhile, fraction of the cost of rebuilding the interstates. He also hopes the proposals will be determined to be in violation of the federal Highway Beautification Act.

“The general rule is that once a billboard is nonconforming, it can’t be relocated,” he said. “This seems to be a backdoor way of trying to get around that.”

The Missouri Department of Transportation has asked the federal government for guidance.

“I think part of the language in the bill now is unclear,” said Joyce Musick, outdoor advertising manager for the state Transportation Department. “We need clarification on which signs they want to allow to be relocated instead of acquired.”


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