New Legislation in Iowa Aims to Ensure Billboards Follow HBA Standards
March 28, 2024

On March 20, 2024, Iowa took a significant step towards aligning its advertising regulations with the federal standards set forth in the Highway Beautification Act (HBA). The introduction of IA Reg. 11519 signals the state’s commitment to preserving scenic beauty along its highways while also ensuring compliance with federal mandates. This move comes amidst growing concerns over the visual clutter caused by outdoor advertising and its impact on the environment.

The Highway Beautification Act, enacted in 1965, aims to control outdoor advertising along interstate highways and federally funded roads, promoting the scenic beauty of America’s landscapes. States failing to adhere to these regulations risk losing 10% of their federal funding for highway aid. Iowa’s proposed legislation reflects a proactive approach to avoid such penalties and uphold the principles of the HBA.

Key provisions of the proposed regulation include restrictions on advertisements featuring animated or moving parts, particularly those situated within designated scenic byways or utilizing LED displays. However, these restrictions come with certain concessions aimed at balancing commercial interests with environmental preservation.

For instance, while advertisements along scenic byways face tighter scrutiny, existing billboards constructed before the designation are exempt from removal. Similarly, LED displays are permissible under specific conditions, including fixed positioning, limited transition times between advertisements, and prohibitions on flashing or scrolling content.

One notable aspect of the proposed legislation is its stance on vegetation within the highway right-of-way. Section 117.6(7) explicitly prohibits alterations to vegetation to enhance billboard visibility without written authorization from the department. However, this provision still leaves room for environmental degradation, as tree cutting for billboard visibility remains legal in the state.

Scenic America commends Iowa’s efforts to reassess outdoor advertising policies. Still, we emphasize the need for more substantial reforms to protect the state’s scenic beauty and environmental integrity. The current regulations, while a step in the right direction, may not go far enough to mitigate the adverse effects of outdoor advertising on landscapes and ecosystems, specifically around tree cutting for billboard visibility.

Moving forward, Iowa has an opportunity to lead by example in promoting responsible outdoor advertising practices. This could involve stricter enforcement of vegetation protection measures, incentivizing sustainable advertising methods, or exploring alternative revenue sources for highway maintenance and development.