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The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is proposing a Pilot Project in the Outdoor Advertising Control Program to test the concepts of dealing with non-conforming signs. Specifically, the proposed pilot will test whether it is possible to move toward the Highway Beautification Act (HBA) purposes of promoting the recreational value of public travel and preserving natural beauty by modifying some of the regulations regarding the maintenance and continuance of non-conforming signs.
The highway corridor chosen for the pilot project is Interstate 75 from the Florida/Georgia State Line southward to the intersection with Florida's Turnpike at Wildwood. In 1996, the Florida Legislature passed Section 479.27, Florida Statutes, in which it found that "Interstate Highway 75 is used extensively by tourists and other visitors to reach their ultimate vacation, recreation, and business destinations in Florida." This statute goes on to designate the roadway chosen for this pilot project as a "highway beautification and tourism promotion pilot project." (See Attachment "A" for the full text of the statute.)
In response to the statute, FDOT developed a corridor management plan which considered all the required aspects. Although there has been an ongoing effort to effect beautification of the corridor through plantings, progress in removing any of the substantial number of non-conforming signs has been impossible because of lack of funding for purchase and the restrictions imposed by 23 CFR §750.707(d)(5).
Beginning with Fiscal Year 2008/2009, FDOT has committed $3 Million per year for each of the next five (5) years to purchase non-conforming signs on this corridor. In order to facilitate identification of the signs which should be given the highest priority for removal, the firm of Keith and Schnars was commissioned to develop a study of the visual aspects of the corridor. This study is complete and has identified each of the areas along the corridor with distinct visual characteristics and prioritized them according to their sensitivity to visual obstructions such as signs. FDOT is proceeding with the sign purchase program with appraisals which began in January, 2009. While this purchase program will certainly reduce the number of non-conforming signs on the corridor, it is unlikely to cause a substantial reduction because of the cost of such signs in Florida.
The corridor study presents an opportunity for Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and FDOT to partner on a pilot project which can test concepts for potentially modifying the regulations regarding changes to non-conforming signs.
We believe this pilot can provide a solid test for identifying potential changes to federal regulations. One of the difficulties encountered in allowing changes to non-conforming signs is in controlling which signs will be allowed to be modified and the type of modifications allowed. The pilot introduces the concept of the corridor study which can serve as a basis for identifying which non-conforming signs could be allowed to be modified. Other aspects of the pilot will test which modifications are effective in enticing the industry to participate while effectively removing signs in high priority areas.
This pilot will be specifically targeted at promoting the purposes of the HBA, specifically, the recreational value of public travel and the preservation of natural beauty. The corridor study has identified the areas of natural beauty along the corridor and has considered how man-made structures, such as billboards, negatively impact these areas. By focusing the removal in the areas deemed most sensitive, the corridor will be made more attractive and the natural beauty will be preserved.
The HBA is predicated on the premise that the public interest is served by the protection and preservation of natural beauty along highways. By emphasizing the protection of the most sensitive areas of natural beauty, the proposed pilot serves the public interest.
This pilot project has been developed in compliance with the National Environmental Policies Act (NEPA) process. After completion of the process, including public meetings, a Programmatic Categorical Exclusion was issued for the pilot project and is attached as Exhibit "B".
Public involvement has been at two levels. At the first level, meetings were conducted February 23 - 25, 2009, with each local government along the corridor, the outdoor advertising industry, and the beautification groups. Meetings with the local governments included Marion, Sumter, Alachua, Columbia, Suwannee, and Hamilton Counties as well as the City of Ocala and the City of Gainesville. Meetings with the industry included CBS Outdoor, Clear Channel Outdoor, Lamar Outdoor, Magic Media, Clyde Anderson Outdoor, and the Florida Outdoor Advertising Association. The beautification groups were represented by Citizens for a Scenic Florida and the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs. After these initial meetings, participants were provided electronic copies of the corridor study as well as a listing of the non-conforming signs within the proposed pilot area and the priority area within which each is located. A second meeting with the industry representatives was held on April 14, 2009, to capture their comments after having had an opportunity to review specific signs and locations. The comments received from these meeting were incorporated into draft documents provided to FHWA on June 3, 2009.
As the second level of public involvement, public meetings were held on July 21, 2009, in Ocala, Florida and on July 22, 2009, in Lake City, Florida. The public meetings were advertised in the Florida Administrative Weekly as well as local newspapers in accordance with the Department's standard NEPA process for such meetings. The draft pilot project document was made available to all stakeholders and interested parties simultaneous with the publication of the meeting notices. Printed versions of the Keith & Schnars study of the project corridor as well as additional copies of the pilot project document were made available for review at the meeting sites 1 ½ hours prior to convening the meeting. During this review period, Department staff was available to answer questions. At the meetings, an overview of the proposed pilot project was presented and comments were solicited. The meetings were recorded to ensure accurate capture of all comments. Summaries of the two meetings have been prepared and are attached as Exhibits "C" and "D." Responses to specific comments offered and issues raised are included as Exhibit "E."
In response to concerns about the timeframe made available for comments, a new 30 day comment period was made available through publication and through e-mail contact with all those who had expressed interest. In addition, a final Public Meeting was held on November 20, 2009, in Lake City. This meeting was advertised in the Florida Administrative Weekly and placed on the Department's website with access to copies of the documents made available. Responses to the written and verbal comments are attached at Exhibit "F."
a. This pilot is designed to test a potential change in Federal regulations which currently prohibit modifications to a non-conforming sign. The pilot will seek to identify parameters which could be used to allow one-time modifications to non-conforming signs when identified objectives are met.
b. The pilot would require a waiver of the requirements of 23CFR§750.707(d)(5).
c. As previously stated, the proposed pilot project corridor is Interstate 75 from the Georgia/Florida line to Wildwood. This is a north-south corridor approximately 144 miles in length and is generally rural in character with the predominant land use being agricultural. The corridor is composed of eight (8) distinct landscape types identified as:
Each of these landscape types has been analyzed based upon numerous factors including existing natural characteristics and vulnerability to man-made structures. The areas have then been prioritized for beautification activities including sign removal as follows:
The corridor is divided as follows:
Left (West) Side
Sixty-three point five (63.5) miles or 22.1% of the corridor length is sensitive priority 1 and 2 areas. These areas also have 335 or 39.5% of the 848 non-conforming sign structures on the corridor.
The Department anticipates acquiring between 150 and 180 of the 335 Priority 1 and 2 area nonconforming signs as part of the 5 year, $15 Million sign purchase program. This would leave an estimated balance of between 155 and 185 Priority 1 and 2 area nonconforming signs that could potentially be removed under the proposed pilot project. Signs removed under this purchase program may not be used as credit for required removals under paragraph d. below.
d. The Department will allow a one-time rebuild of existing non-conforming signs in exchange for removal of other non-conforming signs. For each sign which is to be given authority for a one-time rebuild, a written agreement will be entered into between the Department and the sign owner. This agreement will specifically set out the identification of the structure to be rebuilt and the terms of the rebuild as well as identification of the faces and structures to be removed and the conditions of removal. The rebuild will be required to meet the following conditions:
|Existing Sign||Rebuilt Sign||Required Removal|
|Material||Supports||Facing Size||Lighted||Faces||HAGL||Material||Supports||Facing Size||Lighted||Faces||HAGL||Facing Size||Number|
e. For signs which are located on leased premises, the Department will require documentation that the landlord's interest has been addressed. To the extent that budget is available, the Department will provide funding for compensation to landlords for the loss of the income stream from the sign site lease. Availability of funding will be determined at the time the Department enters into the Agreement with the sign owner, pursuant to paragraph d. above.
f. In order to allow time to measure the full impact of the pilot process, we would propose that the pilot extend through December 31, 2012.
g. It is anticipated that this pilot will result in a corridor with a much improved visual character, making it more attractive to motorists. There would be a general reduction in the number of signs along the corridor and those which are rebuilt would be as unobtrusive as possible. A general reduction in the number of sign faces available for advertising may result in an increase in the cost of advertising or a reduction in availability of advertising space. No concerns of this nature were expressed at the public meetings.
h. Monitoring of the pilot will be accomplished through the agreements with the sign owners as set out in d. above. These agreements will set out the exact terms and conditions under which the rebuild of a non-conforming sign is allowed and how the sign will be dealt with after the rebuild. Records will be kept regarding the number of non-conforming signs purchased, removed by agreement and rebuilt. The report will detail the location and number of rebuilt signs and the location and number of removed signs. Pictorial records will be periodically updated to document the improvement in the motorist's visual experience. Semi-annual status reports will be provided to FHWA.
i. During the Pilot Project, there will be an increased administrative burden on the Department to draw agreements and monitor compliance. After completion of the pilot, there will be a long term reduction in administrative burden due to a reduction in the number of non-conforming signs.
j. There is very little risk associated with this pilot. There are no environmental or safety concerns. The expected result is an improvement in the appearance of the corridor from the motorist's perspective. Risks associated with any individual removal or rebuild will be controlled through the agreement between the Department and the sign owner.