Signs of the Times

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

agency, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) would foot the bill. Highway Department officials and their legal experts say they are confident that passage of Prop. A would not force removal of billboards.

Former Missouri Supreme Court justice Edward D. Robertson, Jr., acting as an unpaid, independent expert, also concluded that the initiative would not require billboard removal.

The question of whether billboards are good or bad for the state’s economy is contentious, too. The MOAA says that most billboards advertise small businesses, and the majority are for travel- and tourism-related businesses. Billboards, they say, are the most effective way for these advertisers to reach their customers. They say small businesses will suffer if billboards disappear.

SOS counters by saying that removing visual clutter from Missouri highways will boost the state’s $5.8 billion-a-year travel and tourism industry.

Besides, said SOS Campaign Director Karl Kruse, billboard companies don’t generate tourist spending, they merely profit by giving their advertisers the upper hand in the quest for tourists’ cash. And, since the biggest of Missouri’s 50 or so outdoor advertising companies are based in other states, their profits are siphoned away from Missouri’s economy.

Missouri isn’t the first state to consider reducing or eliminating outdoor advertising. Vermont banned all billboards on primary highways in the 1960s. Legal challenges claiming that the law violated free-speech rights failed. Many businesses, seeing the ban as the wave of the future, removed their signs well ahead of the five-year deadline.

Christopher Barbieri, president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, said the absence of billboards makes it harder for travelers to find businesses off the main highway, and that directional signs maintained by the state have not worked well. The change, he added, hurt some off-highway businesses and forced them to become more creative in their marketing.

"The overall effect has been positive by helping Vermont build a reputation as a place with unspoiled natural beauty," says Barbieri. "Visitors tell us it’s like driving through a national park. The Vermont Chamber of Commerce would work as hard to preserve our sign law as we would on any other pro-business issue."

MoDOT says Missouri’s approximately 13,500 billboards are spread over 4,403 miles of primary highway, giving us an average of three billboards per primary highway mile. By comparison, Kansas has two billboards per mile, Arkansas has .9 signs per mile, Oklahoma has .75 per mile and Nebraska has .4 per mile. Figures were not available for Iowa

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