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It’s a “highway”: U.S. “beautification” law may require removal of Times Square billboards

May 7, 2015

My latest blog post for the Independent Women’s Forum:

federal-act-pressures-city-remove-oversize-times-square-billboards  This is what a federal highway looks like

Back in 2012 the state of New York, in order to get its hands onto a boost in the $2 billion or so it receives in federal transportation swag, persuaded Congress to designate certain New York City streets, including the Great White Way where Broadway and Seventh Avenue intersect at Times Square, as part of the National Highway System. After all, even though it takes maybe an hour to get across 42nd Street in a cab, you eventually end up on a road to somewhere, don’t you? And so, yes, Times Square is also an “arterial” highway.

But now–oops! The city that never sleeps is losing even more shut-eye over this problem: It seems that in order to qualify for those Federal Highway Administration funds, states must comply with the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which restricts the size of billboards along national highways to 1,200 square feet. And Times Square is all about enormous luminous billboards, some reaching heights of eight stories, that are not only a must-see tourist attraction but a major source of revenue for building owners. And while you might think those iconic Times Square billboards are beautiful, Lady Bird Johnson, who pushed through that Beautification Act during her husband’s presidency, deemed highway signage uglier than a Texas cowpie. And so New York now must remove the billboards or get docked about $90 million in DOT free money.

The threatened demoliton of some of Manhattan’s most beloved structures has New Yorkers in a tizzy of rationalizations for keeping the federal moolah and the signs:

Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban planning at New York University says the Highway Beautification Act was intended for rural areas, and is being misapplied to New York’s streets.

Posted by Charlotte Allen

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