Gibbons administration floral billboard plan denounced

Two key members of Congress on federal highway issues have sharply chastised the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for approving a Gibbons administration plan for floral billboards on U.S. highways in Clark and Washoe counties. The plan was given preliminary approval by the Bush administration in its closing weeks.

In a letter signed by U.S. Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and obtained by RN&R, FHWA Director Thomas Madison was told that authority granted by Congress under a program called “Special Experimental Project No. 15” (SEP-15) had been abused by FHWA in the Nevada case and has wandered into illegal activities. Oberstar chairs the transportation committee and DeFazio chairs its highways subcommittee.

“While SEP-15 is intended to provide FHWA with the ability to explore innovative methods of contracting, right-of-way acquisition, and compliance with environmental requirements, it should not be interpreted as a means by which to disregard the core principles of highway policy,” the two congressmembers wrote. “The SEP-15 authority was granted to FHWA to allow states to experiment with, not to eviscerate, federal highway policy. If this [Nevada] proposal were to be accepted, it would significantly undermine federal highway statute[s], FHWA policy, and Congressional intent in regards to safety, commercialization, and beautification of the nation’s interstate highways.

“NDOT’s proposal violates several provisions of the Highway Beautification Act ("HBA") and its regulations. The HBA specifically prohibits the use of the federal right-of-way for commercial activity—including advertising—as this proposal intends to allow. … This potential minor source of state revenue would come at the expense of safety and highway beautification principles.”

The two representatives hinted in the letter that if the NDOT proposal was allowed to proceed, then congressional authority for the SEP-15 program could be revoked. They also questioned whether NDOT is well informed on federal statutes covering interstate highways—"their application makes only minor reference to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices … which controls signs on the federal right of way and carries the force of law.”

Oberstar and DeFazio closed by urging Madison to reconsider its tentative approval and deny Nevada’s SEP-15 application.