Key Documents in Chronological Order
On January 23, 2013, Scenic America filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking to overturn a controversial Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) ruling. The ruling reversed the agency’s long-held position that barred intermittently changing commercial digital billboards. The lawsuit alleges that FHWA has wrongfully allowed commercial digital billboards to proliferate along federal highways nationwide.
Lawsuit summary as of December 31, 2014 Click here to read a summary of the lawsuit by Ryke Longest, Duke University Clinical Professor of Law, and Liz Wangu, Duke Law Student.
Media Coverage of Lawsuit:
Syndicated columnist Neal Peirce says it’s time to stop the spread of digital billboards.
USA Today says glaring digital billboards “visually scream for attention.”
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Scenic America and its members by Georgetown Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation, asserts that FHWA’s 2007 guidance violates the lighting standards established under the customary use provisions of Lady Bird Johnson’s Highway Beautification Act.
“FHWA continues to ignore the standards established by the Highway Beautification Act. If enforced, these standards would protect citizens from the negative impacts of digital billboards: less-safe roads, diminished quality of life and lower property values,” said Mary Tracy, president of Scenic America.
Digital billboards, brightly-lit signs with commercial messages that change intermittently every few seconds, appeared along federal highways around 2005. State transportation officials, charged with controlling outdoor advertising and following FHWA’s longstanding prohibition on intermittent commercial message lighting, turned to FHWA for additional guidance. Under immense pressure from a powerful billboard lobby to approve the signs, FHWA reversed its long-held position.
Since FHWA reversed its position, the number of digital billboards has risen to nearly 4,000 (nearly a 400% increase) around the country. Most of these billboards operate along the federal highways regulated under the HBA. Drivers are being distracted, adjacent properties are being devalued, homes are being invaded by lights shining through windows, and many individuals and scenic groups have spent thousands of dollars and thousands more hours trying to stop these invasive signs.
“We receive distress calls from people all over the country who find these TVs-on-a-stick lining our highways to be distracting eyesores, and in some instances the signs even shine into the windows of nearby homes,” said Tracy. “These billboards devalue private property, distract drivers, tarnish the beauty of our natural and built landscapes and negatively impact the quality of life for many people. FHWA has been totally unresponsive, and we can no longer stand by and watch this agency ignore Lady Bird’s Highway Beautification Act.”
Representing Scenic America are Daniel H. Lutz, Staff Attorney, and Hope Babcock, Director, of the Institute for Public Representation, Georgetown University Law Center. Thomas Gremillion served as Staff Attorney during filing of the initial lawsuit.