In the waning hours of the legislative session, state lawmakers approved a 56-page transportation bill that contains everything but the kitchen sink. Among the inappropriate, unwise or irrelevant items packed into this bill are several that could lead to more or bigger advertising signs along Florida roadways. One provision could even result in Florida losing more than $163 million in federal highway money. There are more than enough reasons for Gov. Charlie Crist to veto this legislative train.
It has become commonplace for goodies for the powerful outdoor advertising industry to be buried in catchall bills like HB 1021. Under the guise of “An act relating to transportation ... ” there are these provisions in the bill that relate more to advertising than transportation:
• Billboards on the same side of interstate highways could be every 1,000 feet apart, rather than the current 1,500 feet apart, in Hillsborough County. Hillsborough officials did not ask for this provision, don’t like it and don’t know why the county was included in what is described as a pilot program for Hillsborough, Orange and Osceola counties and the city of Miami.
• Along federal highways, so-called “wall murals” — giant ads hung on the sides of high-rise buildings — are subject to limits on size and location contained in federal law and in agreements between the states and U.S. Department of Transportation. But HB 1021 would let cities and counties ignore federal provisions and make their own decisions about wall murals. A letter from the Federal Highway Administration warns the legislation conflicts with federal law and could subject Florida to a penalty of 10 percent of its annual federal highway funding, which this year would be $163,044,523.
• The installation of pay-telephone booths would be permitted within the right-of-way of any city, county or state road. Since cell phones have made pay telephones almost obsolete, this provision seems odd until you read on: Each telephone booth could contain up to 24 square feet of advertising. This would turn street rights of way, which are public property, into venues for commercial advertising.
• While current law limits the frequency with which popular changeable billboards may switch messages so that they are not a distraction for motorists, the bill eliminates that reasonable safety provision. There is plenty to dislike in this bill even beyond the outdoor advertising giveaways. Just one example: Any commercial or industrial project related to a port would not be designated as a development of regional impact, even if that project were up to three miles from the port. Some very large projects with substantial impact on communities could avoid the extra layers of review required by the DRI process.
Last year the governor wisely vetoed a bill similar to HB 1021. This one deserves the same treatment.