programs along controlled routes, and the law continues to
have ramifications on the nation’s highway system.
THE COST OF COMPLIANCE
The financial stakes of HBA compliance are high. States that
don’t maintain effective control could lose 10 percent of their
annual allotment of federal highway funds, which can amount
to millions of dollars. Yet operating an effective ODA program
can be complex and expensive. The cost needed for personnel,
travel and equipment can add up quickly. Some DOTs have
established offices and entire departments to manage the
process. The cost of overseeing the program and maintaining
accurate records can soar into the millions.
Effective control must include size, lighting and spacing of
billboards based on customary use as determined by each state.
The scope of those state laws varies, leading to inconsistency.
For example, the maximum size for sign facing might be 1,200
square feet in one state and 642 square feet in another.
We spoke with Clyde Johnson, a 30-year industry veteran
who developed the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
Outdoor Advertising Effective Control Workshop and teaches
it nationwide. “Maintaining effective control with limited
resources can create an administrative burden for some states,
which results in increased program costs,” Clyde said.
The original intent of a state’s HBA permit system was to allow
states to charge enough for each permit and renewal to cover
the cost of administering the statewide program. In 2009,
Clyde conducted the Outdoor Advertising Sign Regulation
Study, which included a comprehensive analysis of state
practices and control measures. Clyde’s research found that
the cost of permits and renewals has not been increased in
most states to offset the administrative cost of maintaining
effective control. Additional funding is needed, but ODA
control is generally not a top priority. His research also showed
that DOT personnel overseeing the programs typically have
other responsibilities, and agencies would rather allocate their
limited funds on road improvements rather than addressing
ODA issues. Figure 1 shows a comparison of the volume and
budgets managed by six DOTs.
MANAGING MORE WITH LESS
Only recently have technological advances become available
to help DOTs meet their state’s requirements. Faced with
limited budgets and staffs, more DOTs are implementing
these advances to achieve greater program efficiency.
Use of technology has begun helping DOTs to fill these
funding and manpower gaps, thereby lessening the
administrative burden. States are able to become more
advanced in their recordkeeping and managing their
inventory. They are going out on the road with a laptop and
using GPS and other innovations to produce a database of
their ODA inventories. Clyde says that this is a relatively new
development, as it was only about five years ago that state
DOTs were still monitoring information on each sign using
paper-based forms, which they attached to a corresponding
billboard photo. Today, a number of DOTs maintain an
internal database to keep records on each sign, and some are
implementing more advanced solutions.
Jason Probst, Public Information Officer for the California
Department of Transportation (Caltrans), says they use new
ODA surveying equipment with Global Positioning System
(GPS) capabilities, as well as laser-pointers to measure sign
dimensions. Even so, it’s a challenging task for Caltrans to
track billboards along 22,000 highway miles with limited
staff and an annual budget of roughly $1.2 million, which
includes equipment and travel. “We need an appropriate
balance between areas of control and available resources. Our
primary challenges are in enforcement and maintaining the
right staffing levels,” said Jason.
Figure 1: A comparison of ODA programs and budgets in six states.
California Department of Transportation
Delaware Department of Transportation
Florida Department of Transportation
Indiana Department of Transportation
Iowa Department of Transportation
Oregon Department of Transportation
Highway Miles Monitored
approx. 8,620 miles
17,000 active permits
357 permits (2012)
6 inspectors, 3 office staff
approx. 25 staff
Varies by district