85-Feet Tall Billboards Proposed for TX: Traffic Safety Concerns?

A proposed rule from the Texas Department of Transportation would permit billboards to be 85 feet tall, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News reports.

Scenic Texas, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Houston, is concerned about the proposal. An alert on its website bearing the name of Vice President Margaret Lloyd calls it an “urgent problem” and warns readers: “Every billboard along a federal highway in Texas is scheduled to double in height to 85 feet under TxDOT’s proposed rules. UNLESS there is an overwhelming show of public support to keep billboards at their current height of 42.5 feet.

The TxDoT Commissioners are being flooded with billboard industry letters asking that they are allowed to raise their billboards to unlimited heights.

The state rules apply only to areas outside municipalities that regulate signs, where about 25,000 billboards currently are permitted. In cities such as Houston, local rules governing size and location of billboards carry the day.

Currently, the state has some enforcement issue with 159 billboards around Texas, transportation officials said. Others could exist that exceed the 42.5-foot standard, but were erected prior to height rules being established in 1986.

While some concerns have been expressed about traffic safety and billboards, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration has released a landmark study declaring that digital billboards do not pose a safety risk to passing motorists. For those within the industry, the results of this study come as no surprise. Numerous traffic studies and analyses performed in the last couple of decades have come to a similar conclusion.

Drivers in Richmond, Va., and Reading, Pa., participated in the study, and the research concluded that drivers do indeed look at digital billboards longer than they do at static billboards. Glance duration toward digital billboards averaged 0.379 seconds, while glances at static billboards were at 0.335 seconds at both test sites. Both of these measurements fall far below the two-second benchmark, which would constitute a hazard, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.