The Highway Beautification Act (HBA) has been the subject of significant controversy since it passed in 1965. The HBA was intended to protect natural and scenic beauty along federal-aid highways by, among other things, controlling billboards in rural, scenic and agricultural areas.
Advocates of scenic conservation maintain that the HBA has failed to accomplish its goals. On the other hand, the billboard industry calls the HBA “a law that works.” Today, there are more billboards than ever along America’s roadways.
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Passed in 1965, the HBA is the only federal environmental regulation that requires taxpayers to pay the polluter to stop polluting. Loopholes have made the HBA little more than a Billboard Protection and Proliferation Act.
Though the billboard lobby clings to the HBA, portraying it as “a law that works,” the fact is, it doesn’t. Here’s why.
Loopholes in the designation of commercial and industrial zones, the exemption of on-premise signs, a lack of national standards, reliance upon the use of eminent domain rather than the police power to remove non-conforming signs, and inadequate appropriations for the program have been the main causes of the HBA’s ineffectiveness.