November 22 - November 29, 1995

Billboard Bungling

B y  D a v i d  D e v i n e

EVER NOTICED THAT enormous billboard on Interstate 10 between Speedway and Grant Road that blocks your view of the mountains as you're driving north? On one side it has an advertisement for Carondelet Health Systems; on the other it's pushing cancerous Marlboro Men.

Ironically, until earlier this year, St. Mary's Hospital owned the property on which the billboard is located. But then the Arizona Department of Transportation acquired the site to install landscaping improvements and put in a new frontage road along the highway. This work was part of a long-term project to widen the roadway and make it more attractive.

At the same time, ADOT arranged to exchange a small parcel of property nearby for a new sign, so taxpayers wouldn't have to pay to acquire the billboard. In the words of one state employee, this would be a win-win situation for the taxpayers and the billboard industry.

The present billboard was erected in 1982, and since then the city's sign code regulations have changed. Today the billboard is both too big and too high to comply with current law. So the new sign will have to be smaller and lower--but it will still be there.

pix Which raises the question: Is retaining a billboard along a beautified highway really a win-win situation?

The state spent a sizeable sum on hardscape and landscape improvements at the Miracle Mile interchange a mile or so north of this site. Isn't this billboard detracting from the overall improvement? Would the taxpayers have rather paid to remove this commercial eyesore?

That's exactly what the City Of Tucson's Transportation Department did during the Speedway Boulevard widening project a few years ago. In that case the city bought the property under the billboards and yanked them. End of story.

Later this month the city's Sign Code Committee will hold a public hearing to consider billboard regulation changes. One proposed change would require a minimum distance between billboards. This is the same type of regulation the city now has for "adult entertainment."

These proposed regulations, if approved by the City Council,

may make the new I-10 billboard too close to another existing sign.

But these new regulations won't be considered for adoption by the City Council until at least January, and they would only apply to new signs, not existing ones. Since the new billboard on I-10 is expected to be in place by the end of this year, the revised regulations would be meaningless in this case.

Will the State of Arizona hold off on exchanging property for a new billboard until the City Council makes a decision on the spacing issue? Will the City of Tucson issue a permit to erect the new sign before this decision is made? A state transportation official says ADOT would consider waiting for a decision on the spacing requirement. But a city staff member says a permit for the new billboard has been applied for and will be processed accordingly.

So this might be another of those cases where the intention of new regulations is thwarted by bureaucratic inertia.

Obviously, the city could adopt a moratorium for new billboards now and then consider the proposed revisions, thus discouraging a last-minute rush of applications before the revisions go into effect.

Those wishing to express their opinions on billboard regulations should attend the city's Sign Code Committee public hearing at 7 p.m., Thursday, November 30, in the basement of the County-City Public Works Building, 201 N. Stone Ave. Call the city's Development Services sign code office, 791-5607, beforehand to get more specific information on the proposed changes.

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November 22 - November 29, 1995

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