State Proposes Banning Electronic Billboards

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – Montana bans advertising signs that flash, move or use intermittent lights along state roadways.

Now the state proposes an amendment to its administrative rules that would extend the ban to a new form of advertising, electronic billboards.

The state Transportation Commission will hold a public hearing Monday night in Billings on the proposed amendment. The commission earlier held hearings in Missoula and Kalispell, and the hearing in Billings will be the final one.

Commission Chairwoman Nancy Espy, a Broadus rancher, said she didn’t know when the commission will vote on whether to adopt the amendment, but under state law the decision must be made within six months of filing a notice of the proposed change, which was done March 28.

The state’s ban on what are known as “variable message signs,” the old-school models with flashing lights, is written into a a 1970s agreement between the U.S. secretary of transportation and the state of Montana.

Now the he Federal Highway Administration wants Montana to interpret that agreement and address whether electronic billboards are covered by the ban.

The new electronic billboards have computer-controlled light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, that can generate traditional-looking pictures and text, which can be changed quickly.

State Transportation Director Jim Lynch said sign companies have been arguing that the rules don’t pertain to the new technology, which does not involve flashing or intermittent lights.

Lynch said the state has always taken the stance that the prohibition does apply to the new signs, but clarifying the rules would remove grounds for dispute.