Signs of the Times

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

Not all of Missouri's roadsides are cluttered with billboards, but enough are to bring the question of a statewide billboard ban to the voters in the upcoming ballot. Do billboards deface Missouri's beauty? Do they assist travelers seeking goods and services? Must we be exposed by advertising while driving public rights-of-way? You be the judge on Nov. 7.

Billboards will be on the ballot Nov. 7. Missourians will be asked to decide whether the "information" billboards provide to tourists and travelers is of sufficient value to justify obscuring or marring the beautiful scenery that people drive around Missouri to see.

If you haven’t heard about Prop. A yet, you will soon. The outdoor advertising industry has said it will spend up to $5 million to fight the initiative. Save Our Scenery 2000 (SOS) hopes to raise $2.6 million to convince voters to approve the measure.

Proposition A is on the ballot because SOS, a nonprofit group, gathered enough signatures to bypass the legislative process. If a simple majority of those who vote in the general election vote yes on Prop. A, it will become law immediately.

Proponents and opponents agree that Prop. A would:

  • Prohibit construction of new billboards on primary highways. (This includes most numbered routes, such as Interstate 70 and U.S. Highways 21, 63 and 54, plus connector routes to railroads, airports and other transportation systems.)
  • Affirm the right of cities and counties to regulate billboards.
  • Prohibit replacement, rebuilding or relocation of existing billboards along primary highways.
  • Prohibit sign companies from cutting trees on highway rights-of-way to make their signs more visible.

The two sides disagree about many other things. The most significant dispute is whether Prop. A would require the removal at state expense of approximately 3,415 of the 13,500 billboards currently located along primary highways.

The Missouri Outdoor Advertising Association (MOAA) says mandatory sign removal is likely if the proposition passes. MOAA Executive Director Bill May says that even though the proposition does not specifically call for sign removal, a legal challenge to sign companies’ right to keep existing billboards could force the court to rely on Prop. A’s overall intent. This intent, as stated in the initiative, is "state-wide reduction of outdoor advertising and elimination of outdoor advertising from areas of natural scenic beauty and in or near residential, historic, and similar districts at the earliest feasible moment."

If the state ordered removal of billboards, it would be legally obligated to compensate the owners. As the regulating

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