Taller billboards not a necessity in Texas

Part of the reason the Hill Country’s beautiful scenery is so revered is that its hills, brush and limestone are not covered up with advertisements.

Imagine taking a drive on the Willow City Loop during wildflower season, and having the setting interrupted with the latest promotional messages about fast food or cell phones.

The Texas Department of Transportation is considering proposed rule changes that would permit the height of billboards along federal highways to be increased 35 percent, unless they are located within a city having stricter standards.

A group called Scenic Texas opposes the rule, as it serves no public purpose. We agree. We feel like the industry is seeing an opening in rural areas where clearly written, enforceable standards have not been established. (Indeed, many towns do not have defined standards.)

We are not averse to some billboards. Like newspapers, they have their place in the advertising world. Yet the billboard industry claims that a rise in height would give drivers a better chance to see them at 60 to 75 miles per hour. There is no evidence that this is needed.

Some groups criticize billboards for causing driver distraction, lighting up the night sky, degrading taxpayer investment in public highways and causing “visual pollution.”

Scenic Texas cites the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which was championed by Lady Bird Johnson. It mandates that states maintain control of outdoor advertising along interstates. It’s estimated that Texas has 40,000 billboards. Four states — Maine, Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii — have none.

One need look no further than to our neighbors in Louisiana to see how quickly billboards turn tasteless and trashy. A drive down Interstate 10 in the bayou state will alert “CASINOS!” or “ADULT SUPER STORE” on billboards that scream at motorists with all the subtlety of a Bourbon Street prostitute.

Save Our Scenic Hill Country Environment successfully took up a cause against industrial wind-generating facilities and power transmission lines and managed to steer them south. Let’s hope enough interested people contact TxDOT to deny this industry favor.

There is no greater good here, so we see no need to change the law.

We urge you to remind TxDOT officials that this was not what Lady Bird Johnson had in mind with the Highway Beautification Act.

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