Proposal would prevent Texas billboard height limit from doubling

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas billboards could stand taller unless lawmakers act this session.

A new state proposal is the latest attempt by lawmakers to clarify the height limit for outdoor advertisements along Texas highways and byways.

The limit on how tall billboards can stand is set to double if the proposal fails. 

Lawmakers tried two years ago to adjust the wording in statute, but it was not made clear enough for the Texas Transportation Commission. The board, which oversees the Texas Department of Transportation, adopted an order that would allow for billboards to be raised to up to 85 feet starting in September.

The new plan, authored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the Texas Capitol, would override the Commission’s order, capping the maximum height for billboards at 42.5 feet — which has been the limit for decades.

State Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) authored the Senate version. State Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria) authored the House version.

Nichols said the legislative intent laid out last session was clear. A conversation on the Senate floor between Nichols and State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), a co-author on the bill, was entered into the journal.

“I went over to the commission and explained it to them myself,” Nichols explained in a legislative hearing earlier this month. “And regardless of that, they decided they wanted to raise the height to an undetermined amount.”

The legislation has drawn the support of Scenic Texas, a group that works to preserve and enhance the state’s visual environment, particularly relating to Texas roadways. The organization’s Houston Chapter president, Anne Culver said:

“An 85-foot billboard is about the height of a nine story building – they are completely out of character with the scenic environment across this state.”

The proposal faces opposition from the billboard industry.

Nichols, Morrison and Watson wrote an op-ed explaining their proposal, in which they acknowledged the billboard battle.

“To some, billboards are a blight on our beautiful landscape. To others, they’re an effective tool for economic stimulus and communication,” the trio wrote, in part. “We believe that maintaining the height at 42.5 feet limit is a compromise that will allow billboard advertisements to continue without doing undue harm to the beauty of our great state.”

A TxDOT spokesperson explained the current regulations but declined to comment on pending legislation.

The proposal would exempt a few hundred billboards which are in the process of being settled in court.

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