Trees, Billboards and the Right to be Seen From the Road

 

Cutting the public’s trees on the right-of-way to provide a better view of billboards gives rise to several questions. What is the relationship between the outdoor advertising business and the roadway?

Trees, Billboards, and the Right to be Seen From the Road
by Charles F. Floyd
Professor of Real Estate, University of Georgia

Introduction

The outdoor advertising industry depends for its very existence on its billboards being seen from the public roadway. If trees grow up in front of a sign and block this view, the billboard no longer has value to the outdoor advertising company’s business. Pressure from the industry to remove these obstructions to their use of the road has led to the controversial practice in a number of states of permitting the cutting of trees on the public right-of-way to provide a clear view of billboards, and the billboard industry is pushing hard to extend the practice to other states.

Are billboards a use of private property or a use of the road? Does an outdoor advertising company have the inherent right to a clear view from the roadway? If the highway authority refuses to cut the trees to provide this view, doe the obstruction of view constitute a compensable taking for the billboard’s owners? Finally, if the public authority allows trees on the right-of-way to be destroyed in order to provide a clear view of billboards, does this constitute an illegal gift of public property for a non-profit purpose or an illegal relinquishment of right-of-way?

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