STAFF WRITER CONNIE SWINNEY
AUSTIN — A recommendation to double the allowed height of billboards visible from state and federal highways has prompted opponents to mobilize against the potential measure.
A proposal expected to be addressed by the Texas Department of Transportation would increase the current height allowance of 42.5 feet to 85 feet, or about the height of an eight- to 10-story building.
“That means it would allow those double-decker billboards,” said Terry “Tex” Toler, a board member for the Hill Country chapter of the Dark Night Skies Reserve committee. “It’s the outdoor advertising lobby, which is very powerful.”
Toler recently shared an “action alert” on his social media page from a group called Scenic Texas, which is fighting an effort by outdoor advertising lobbyists asking TxDOT to ease the limits on outdoor billboards.
“Private property owners are the ones who sell the lease to the billboard company,” Toler said. “They get paid monthly for those billboards, but at the expense of everyone else.
“It’s not only light pollution, but it’s scenic view pollution,” Toler added.
Toler’s concerns primarily solicited support; however, one social media commenter thought the advertisers should have some leeway.
“It’s information/communication,” wrote Ken Moyer concerning billboard detractors. “May not be pretty, but businesses should be able to advertise their location and products.”
Questions offered by DailyTrib.com to the TxDOT public information office are under consideration, and a response is pending.
Toler has worked the past several years to not only preserve scenic views in the Hill Country but also the history and character of small-town Llano, where he works.
As the Llano Main Street tourism coordinator, Toler campaigned in 2015 for ordinances to minimize light intrusion in night skies.
As a result, Llano joined Fredericksburg and Mason to pass so-called “dark night skies” ordinances regulating lighting.
Taking up the billboard issue seemed to be a natural progression of his efforts, he explained.
“You cannot avoid seeing billboards that obliterate the countryside, the sunset, or the dark skies,” he said. “It’s light trespass. Not only are the lights directed upward into the sky, which prevents the viewing of the stars at night, it’s also distracting and is a blight on the horizon.”
Toler also believes efforts to ease rules about billboards fail to adhere to the 1972 Scenic Highway Act, spearheaded by former first lady Lady Bird Johnson, who worked to preserve natural beauty along Texas highways.
“If she were here today, she would be disgusted by what’s happening,” he said.
Toler said he would like to see the state of Texas go a step further and limit such advertising.
“There are several states who have outlawed billboards,” he said. “We have these beautiful vistas, and it’s being ruined by these gigantic rectangles in the sky lit up at night.”
To find out more about efforts regarding billboard regulation, go to scenictexas.org.