GUEST COLUMN:
No to electronic billboards
By Larry Barrett

       The Board of El Paso County commissioners will be meeting Nov. 20 to decide whether to permit electronic billboards. These are bright, distracting off-premise signs that can be seen over a half-mile away and change messages every six seconds or up to 10 rotating faces per minute. The billboard industry installed two electronic billboards without following established county permitting procedures and must now seek approval from the county commissioners.
       Scenic Colorado believes that billboards create neighborhood blight, reduce property values for adjacent landowners, and pollute scenic views. Scientific studies document that billboards lead to more driver distractions, unsafe vehicle operations and higher crash rates.
       Nov. 20 is the first time the El Paso County commissioners have had to consider specific electronic billboard applications since the sign code was weakened to allow them. This became effective in April 2007. Scenic Colorado believes that electronic billboards should be prohibited, at least along tourist-oriented scenic corridors such as I-25, US 24 and the airport access, but preferably electronic billboards should be prohibited countywide.
       Scenic beauty is one of the hallmarks of the Pikes Peak region. It is why many of us live here and why tourists visit. Preserving and enhancing the visual environment is the mission of Scenic Colorado.
       Billboards are subject to city and county restrictions. Both the city and the county restrict the number of billboards, currently at about 180 in the city and 70 in the county. In the county, existing billboards may be expanded in size and turned into electronic billboards, but must go through a public process. Existing billboards may be converted to electronic billboards without a public process, if the size does not change. Furthermore, new billboard locations are allowed, unlike in other progressive jurisdictions. Douglas County has prohibited new billboard locations since 1964, and it shows with their wonderful scenic roadways. Teller County in 1991 banned new billboards with the support of the business community and saved their highways from an invasion of signs for casinos and other products. Both counties have rules that prohibit electronic billboards replacing existing standard billboards.

Larry Barrett is a spokesperson for Scenic Colorado. He can be reached at 634-4468. For information from El Paso County on the billboard agenda item at the county commissioners' meeting, call 520-6540.