The Highway Beautification Act

A Broken Law

April 1, 1997

The Highway Beautification Act : Overview

Fixing the Highway Beautification Act


Congress will soon reauthorize the nation's transportation law, and will have a golden opportunity to improve the Highway Beautification Act. In order to protect the natural beauty of our country's highways, Congress must:

  • Protect rural areas by prohibiting billboards in unzoned areas. Loopholes in the law allow new billboards to be erected not only in these commercial and industrial regions, but in so-called "unzoned" areas - many of which are pristine rural communities. These loopholes must be closed.
  • End subsidies to the billboard industry. Congress must relieve taxpayers from subsidizing the billboard industry by collecting fees from billboard operators that adequately cover the costs of the highway beautification program, including the costs of removing billboards that no longer meet current standards.
  • Protect public land and the environment by disallowing "vegetation control" to improve billboard visibility. In many states, billboard operators legally clearcut trees and other vegetation on public land in order to improve the views to their billboards. This practice must be stopped.
  • Restore local control over the billboard industry. Current regulations - by mandating the form of the payment that must be made to remove nonconforming billboards - actually make it more difficult for communities to remove billboards from their roads and streets. Congress should not intrude on the rights of local government to choose any constitutional means to enforce local zoning laws.
  • Conduct a national billboard inventory. Lack of information makes it extremely difficult to enforce the standards of the HBA. Worse, the current state of ignorance creates ideal conditions for the proliferation of billboards many of which fail to meet the standards of the HBA.