Scenic Missouri: A History of Milestones

As Scenic Missouri approaches its 30th anniversary, we celebrate our long legacy of fighting to protect our state’s scenic beauty, and we look toward the future to address fresh challenges.

Scenic Missouri History

Scenic Missouri was established in 1993 to address the visual blight caused by unchecked proliferation of outdoor advertising signs, or billboards, along Missouri’s roadways. Since then we have become the foremost advocate for and authority on scenic preservation in our state. 

Scenic Missouri has successfully advocated for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) Blue Logo sign program (attractive alternatives to billboards), MoDOT’s Scenic Byways Program and the prohibition of new double-decker billboards. After an appeals court decision rendering local ordinances prohibiting new billboards, Scenic Missouri advocated for legislation reinstating local control. During this time, due to inaction by the legislature, billboards continued to proliferate along our interstate and primary highways.

In response, Save Our Scenery 2000, a separate campaign committee, began collecting signatures to put before the voters a statutory amendment prohibiting new billboards along all federal aid highways in Missouri.  Although numerous polls suggested strong voter support for the initiative and the measure received majority votes in eleven counties and the city of St. Louis, it narrowly lost statewide by 2%. The good news is that while signatures were being collected Big Billboard, in an attempt to stave off a statewide vote, supported legislation reinstating local control of outdoor advertising.

Despite the above, Big Billboard continued its litigious ways by challenging in court local ordinances adopted under the very legislation supported by the industry. Another petition drive was planned. Once again, this brought Big Billboard to the negotiating table.

In 2002 legislation was passed with the support of the billboard industry increasing minimum sign spacing under state law from 500 ft to 1400 ft.  Cities and counties could be more restrictive. This severely limited the number of new billboards that could be erected and rendered most existing billboards “non conforming uses,” subject to removal in some cases. 

Over the ensuing several years, Scenic Missouri primarily focused on two initiatives: 

a) Helping local governments resist attempts by Big Billboard to evade their billboard regulations. Most prominently, citizen advocates in Kansas City convinced the city council to pass a bill prohibiting new digital billboards and adopt zoning changes limiting all new billboards. Unfortunately, the ever-present billboard lobby worked behind the scenes to seriously weaken the new regulations.

b) After MoDOT proposed rebuilding and expanding I-70 through Missouri, an interstate highway generally considered to be the most congested, unsafe and visually cluttered stretches of highway in America. Scenic Missouri responded by publishing “Lewis and Clark Parkway:  Two Proposals.” The proposals provided a set of two alternative proposals to expand I-70 that incorporated context-sensitive design elements, scenic easements (no billboards), native vegetation in rights of way, and where possible rest stops with scenic overlooks. In 2019 Scenic Missouri advocated a House Resolution supporting the rebuild of  I-70 using the Lewis and Clark Parkway proposal as a model. HR 4839 passed the House Transportation Committee unanimously, but due to opposition by Big Billboard the Speaker of the House would not send it to the floor for a vote.

In 2021 HB 1115 was filed on behalf of Big Billboard. The bill would have striped local governments of the authority to regulate billboards more strictly than state law, as granted by the very legislation in 1998 supported by the industry. In collaboration with the Missouri Association of Counties and the Missouri Municipal League, Scenic Missouri successfully opposed the bill.

Today, Scenic Missouri remains vigilant on signage issues and also works proactively on other scenic conservation initiatives. Learn more about our new strategic vision and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on the latest scenic issues facing our state.