State Appeals Electronic Billboard Decision

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – The Montana Department of Transportation is appealing a court decision that favors an advertising company in a dispute over an electronic billboard.

The decision in support of Lamar Advertising has been appealed to the Montana Supreme Court.

The case dates to 2006, when Lamar applied for Transportation Department approval to put an electronic billboard at the site of a standard billboard on Main Street in Billings. The agency’s authorization was necessary because Main Street is under state control.

The department denied the request, saying the permit could not be issued because a rule-making process for electronic billboards was under way.

The few electronic billboards in Montana include one in Helena and one in Great Falls. The boards use LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, to automatically change the message on the sign.

An electronic billboard can display up to six different messages, each shown for up to 6 or 8 seconds, said Paul Dennehy, general manager for Lamar in Billings. The messages change so rapidly that there is no noticeable gap between one advertisement and the next. There are no flashing, blinking or moving lights.

Lamar appealed the Transportation Department’s decision to the state Transportation Commission. The case was assigned to a hearing examiner, who upheld the department’s decision. District Judge Gregory Todd said the examiner’s interpretation of the law was incorrect.

The Transportation Department says Todd should have returned the case to the commission rather than ruling on it. The agency also says Lamar’s original petition for court review is moot because a ban on electronic billboards along state-managed roads is likely within two months.

Michael Green, a Helena lawyer representing Lamar, said the department is trying to circumvent Todd’s order by making reference to a pending ban not under consideration at the time the judge issued his order.