Let Mother Nature deal with billboards

Published 8:25 am Tuesday, February 13, 2007

By Staff
If there is anything worse than seeing an ugly billboard along one of North Carolina’s highways, its the idea that we, the taxpayers, are paying to make it even more visible.
Yet that is what some lawmakers want.
Rep. Nelson Cole, a Rockingham County Democrat, has introduced a bill in the General Assembly to expand the amount of right of way that the state transportation officials will have to clear to help motorists see private billboards more clearly. According to the Greensboro News-Record, it applies to publicly owned land between the private property where the billboard is located and the road or highway.
Reps. Maggie Jeffus and Earl Jones, both Greensboro Democrats, have co-sponsored the bill with Cole.
We would argue that the state should be working to eliminate billboards altogether, not subsidize their operation. That is what is at issue here.
Current rules allow cutting along a 250-foot stretch of road back toward the direction of travel. The proposed change would roughly double that.
Cole inserted the measure in another bill last year and it was deleted. We, and others, hope his proposal meets the same fate this year.
Molly Diggins, director for the North Carolina branch of the Sierra Club, agreed, according to the News-Record.
Billboard executive say improvements are needed and old billboards can’t be seen because of lax vegetation trimming.
We could argue that the state Department of Transportation policy on trimming isn’t lax. DOT has bigger fish to try. As it stands, North Carolina is facing a $920 million shortfall in transportation funds over the next three years. DOT Secretary Lyndo Tippett is quoted as saying that the situation is so serious the state is asking for permission to impose tolls on Interstate 95 from Virginia to South Carolina to raise money. On a local level, there isn’t enough money to even consider the four laning of U.S. Highway 17 between Washington and Williamston. So why, in such a dire funding situation, would anybody consider adding to DOT’s burden by using scant resources to enhance billboards?
We again could argue that billboard companies have had 30 to 40 years of revenue flowing in at the expense of motorists, and that perhaps Mother Nature is saying, through its vegetation, that enough is enough. Local governments already have their hands tied when it comes to outdoor advertising. Even if they do enact ordinances that prohibit new billboards, which prompts a legal battle, getting rid of existing ones is a costly and time-consuming process. If billboard companies feel outdoor advertising is so important, they should spent the money to buy the land all the way around their billboards and they should foot the bill for keeping it cleared. Until then, the state has no responsibility for making billboards even more popular at the expense of the motoring public.