Bill ties local, state officials’ hands when regulating billboards

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The city of Wilson has formed several committees to look at improving the appearance and function of U.S. 301, which runs a considerable distance through the city. Well, it appears that House Bill 645 could and probably will make U.S. 301, a federal aid route, another “Billboard Alley.”

HB 645 completely removes any authority over billboards from all local authorities, including towns, cities and counties. All authority over billboards is left in the N.C. Department of Transportation’s hands, and their hands are tied to control billboards by this ridiculous legislation. Billboard companies Clear Channel of Texas and Lamar of Louisiana are probably so happy that their investment will pay off big time in North Carolina.

In summary, the bill:

1. Removes all local authority over billboards.

2. Allows 500 feet of mature trees to be cut and mowed into the ground on our controlled-access highways like I-95 and U.S. 264 at no charge to Clear Channel or Lamar.

3. Expands the cutting zone to 500 feet at all billboards, which with the cutting at relocated billboards could cause hundreds of acres of North Carolina’s trees to be cut down and mowed into the dirt and given away.

4. Dogwoods and redbuds can be relocated from the cutting/mowing zone, but they forgot to include watering for these relocated trees — survival would be a miracle.

5. If you only deal in dollars and cents, the DOT will now have to pay for a billboard that is in the way of highway widening by also paying for the future rental value of the billboard. In Minnesota, this amounted to several million dollars for one billboard. Forget widening I-95, which has about 350 billboards.

It really looks promising for HB 645 as it sails along at rocket speed with very little notice to the public of legislative committee action. Is this really what is best for North Carolina?

Bill Johnson