Traverse City Record-Eagle


February 3, 2014

Mich. law may limit growth of digital billboards

LANSING (AP) — A newly minted Michigan law seeks to somewhat limit the growth of digital billboards across the state, in some cases requiring companies to trade in three unused permits to put up one electronic outdoor sign along a highway.

The measure signed Thursday by Gov. Rick Snyder also may reduce the number of existing billboards by making sure new digital incarnations are farther apart than regular billboards now have to be.

The governor’s signature — which came a day after the bill cleared the Senate 21-14 and the House 104-6 — capped a two-year process to bring Michigan into compliance with federal rules, but one that got tied up amid wrangling over other issues.

“I don’t think many of us think we have a lack of advertising outside,” Rep. Bradford Jacobsen, an Oxford Republican and sponsor of the legislation, said after it won final approval.

Michigan has around 14,500 billboards and, under a 2007 moratorium, is capped at issuing more permits overall. Fewer than 200 of the billboards are digital and mostly are in larger metropolitan areas.

Electronic billboards can be attractive to their owners because of the ability to cycle in multiple messages a day instead of one static advertisement. But the downside is cost, with Jacobsen estimating it is not unusual to spend $500,000 to $750,000 to erect a digital billboard and power it with electricity.

Some people believe digital billboards are more distracting and too bright, making roads less safe. A recently released federal study, however, found that electronic signs do not cause drivers to glance at them much longer than regular billboards to the point of posing a safety risk.

“The problem we ran into this time around was with that limit, that cap, on the actual billboards and this whole digital movement ... within that framework how do they get to play?” said Sen. Tom Casperson, an Escanaba Republican. “What do you get rid of to be able to get the digital billboards?”

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