Sunday, February 05, 2006

Citizens advisory committee allowed to give cosmetic input on Trans-Texas Corridor.

Committee could recommend no billboards on TTC

February 03, 2006

By Dan Genz
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2006

The first leg of the massive Trans-Texas Corridor may lack a staple of most modern highways, if some members of a citizens advisory committee are able to convince the state to ban billboards along the route.

“This road could go through some of the prettiest rural areas of our state and there are some of us who believe it is important to protect the scenic views,” committee member Sandy Greyson said.

The 1,200-foot-wide proposed tollway, railroad and utility network will take travelers and freight between San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth. The 24-person advisory committee is debating how roadside advertising should work as it waits for an anticipated update on where the road will be built.

Greyson, a former Dallas city council member, said the corridor would be more attractive and lucrative for the state if it banned billboards and provided only blue and brown highway attraction signs sanctioned by the state.

Advertisers pay the state for a spot on those signs, while they pay billboard operators and owners for the much larger signs. For the Trans-Texas Corridor, the road's builder, Cintra Zachry LP, is expected to have the rights to billboards along the route.

Waco area committee member Roy Walthall, a professor of political science at McLennan Community College, said the suggestion received close to unanimous support during its meeting last week in Austin and is worth considering, but he warned that it could make the deal less appealing to Cintra Zachry, who could lose millions.

One opponent of the proposal cautioned that it could hurt hotels, gas stations and restaurants that rely on billboards, as well as travelers trying to get acquainted with the new road.

“Billboards are very informative, if used correctly. They're not just these ugly things in the sky,” said Mat Naegele, a vice president and general manager of Lamar Outdoor Advertising, the largest operator of billboards in Central Texas.

“If you get out in the country – which is where they're building this thing – would you know where to stay, where to get gas, where to eat?” Naegele said.

If travel-related business owners thought the state's blue signs, which advertise lodging, gas and food options at exits along interstates, were sufficient, Naegele said, “I wouldn't have a business.”

Greyson said the state sign system could be expanded to provide a better platform for businesses and better notice to tourists.

The committee has not formally recommended the idea, but may make that action or ask for further study at its next meeting, Feb. 24, Walthall said.

Gov. Rick Perry created the panel last year so its members could provide input on issues related to transportation, his spokeswoman Rachael Novier said.

“There is some precedent for this sort of thing,” she said, citing a no-billboards clause in the construction of Texas Highway 130 in the Austin area.

The Texas Department of Transportation will soon announce a 10-mile-wide study area for the highway, but is waiting for environmental approval of that broad route.

The corridor, which could begin construction in 2010, is expected to run through McLennan County.


© 2006 Waco Tribune Herald