Some 25,000 billboards along certain stretches of Texas highways could soar in size under a regulatory change approved by state transportation officials.
The Texas Transportation Commission voted unanimously Thursday to eliminate the existing 42½-foot height restriction beginning September 2019, allowing the size limit to double. The ruling followed months of deliberation and discussion, including a write-in campaign that generated thousands of letters both against and in favor of taller billboards.
The action allows the 2019 Texas Legislature to revisit the matter and issue clearer rules, commission chairman J. Bruce Bugg said.
“We are trying to bring what I would call a fair balance to the deliberation,” he said.
The commission was immediately criticized for giving lobbyists for outdoor advertising companies a stronger hand in dealing with legislators when they meet next year. Many sign companies are aggressively seeking to roll back limits on height and the brightness of electronic billboards.
“The industry has no incentive to participate in that, help in that, or do anything other than kill it,” said Margaret Lloyd, president of Scenic Texas, which advocates for sign limits.
State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and chairman of the Texas Senate Transportation Committee, said lawmakers in 2017 made clear they intended to keep the 42½-foot ceiling in place, although the authority rested with the transportation commission.
“Billboards will go to 85 feet,” Nichols said, warning of the consequences if lawmakers do not act.
The latest revisions to the billboard regulations were prompted by a court challenge to Texas’ sign rules in 2016, and a need to address hundreds of billboards that do not satisfy state rules because they pre-date laws, road conditions changed or were simply installed out of compliance.
“Some of them were over 100 feet,” Scenic Texas’ Lloyd told transportation officials. “(Outdoor advertising companies) basically turned their backs to the agency that was regulating them.”
Vela, the industry representative, said Texas has sufficient oversight of the outdoor advertising industry.
“We support robust enforcement of all regulations and believe that the department does a very good job of enforcement,” he said.
Comments pro and con poured in when TxDOT first proposed some of the rule changes in October, with more than 4,700 comments on the height restriction dominating the mix.
Of the 2,010 in favor of increasing the limit to 85 feet or eliminating height rules altogether, many came from outdoor advertising companies, property owners with billboards on their land and companies that use the signs to advertise.
Another 2,694 commenters opposed raising the height limits. Most of those were from Scenic Texas and its supporters and concerned residents.
Emphasis mine. This is not the first time that a proposal to raise the maximum height of highway billboards has come up – in that case, the new max height would have been a relatively petite 65 feet – and not surprisingly, the general public was against it. You know what to do in 2019, Sen. Nichols.