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Lawmakers look to allow digital billboards on state highways

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Jan. 20, 2012 at 2:03 pm with No Comments »
January 20, 2012 2:03 pm

A bill introduced in the Legislature this week would allow what the Tacoma City Council has refused: digital billboards.

Billboard owner Clear Channel is asking lawmakers to allow digital signs along Washington’s state highways.

The state Senate last year voted for a similar measure, but it didn’t pass the House. This year’s bill, sponsored by Des Moines Democrat Dave Upthegrove, will start in the House. It would allow “static” signs that hold the same picture, without flashing or showing videos.

A Clear Channel lobbyist said the company is trying to replace existing traditional signs, not put up new ones.

The lobbyist, Noah Reandeau, said 43 other states allow digital signs. Oregon recently joined that group, he said.

There’s sure to be debate over whether the billboards are visual blight, as opponents argue, or whether their use to law enforcement outweighs any negatives. As with the company’s Tacoma effort, supporters are emphasizing the signs would be available for Amber Alerts and other emergency messages.

The measure applies to the state highway system, not to areas along interstates.

Electronic signs are currently not allowed and there are limits on traditional signs, which would not change under the bill: They must be permitted, and they are generally limited to industrial or commercial areas. Billboards must advertise a business within 12 miles of the sign or must be of “interest to the traveling public,” such as ads for eating, lodging or gas.


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