More States Hoping to Monetize Highways

The commercialization of highway rights of way is largely prohibited by federal regulations, but states are looking for new ways to generate revenue from billboards and rest stops.

1 minute read

June 28, 2018, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Digital Highway Sign

Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock

California has 900 digital signs along highways around the state, usually reserved for safety messages, Amber Alerts, or drive times. Now the state is considering selling advertising on 25 of the signs, according to an article by Daniel Vock.

"Not everyone is on board with the idea. In fact, the California Association of Counties, the League of California Cities, half a dozen individual municipalities and several outdoor advertising agencies oppose [pdf] the measure," reports Vock.

The push from the Brown Administration reflects a larger trend among state governments to make more of highway capacity, and its connected land and infrastructure assets, to sell advertising. Just a year ago, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) rejected a similar proposal in Texas a year ago, for instance. New York and Michigan have also wrestled with the idea of public entities generating revenue with billboards or signs along highways.

Signs aren't the only resource states are looking to monetize, either. Some commercial uses were grandfathered in before the 1956 law that created the Interstate Highway System prohibited new commercial activity along highways. "So certain roads in Delaware, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, Indiana and New York have gas stations, restaurants and shops within their rights-of-way," explains Vock. Arizona, not on that list, recently asked the federal government for a waiver.

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