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Conflict Assessment: Federal Outdoor Advertising Control Program

Executive Summary

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has been responsible for the implementation of the Highway Beautification Act (HBA) since its passage in 1965 through its Outdoor Advertising Control (OAC) Program. In addition to the traveling public, key stakeholders affected by the OAC Program include members of the outdoor advertising industry (sign owners, advertisers, suppliers, and landowners), groups concerned about maintaining and improving scenic views, local governments, and state and Federal regulators. Various conflicts have surfaced among these stakeholders over the years. FHWA decided to pursue a conflict assessment to reach out to parties interested in OAC to identify issues that cause controversy and suggest appropriate methods for addressing conflicts and improving program results.

Through over 100 personal interviews, focus groups and public meetings in seven cities, and over 1,800 comments in the Federal Register, this Assessment has gathered perspectives about the OAC Program. The assessment team has reached several fundamental conclusions:

  1. Conflict about the OAC Program is substantive, organizational and attitudinal.

  2. Although there are many issues in conflict, the key issues that are perceived as both important to the stakeholders and having reasonable potential for agreement are:

    • The use of new technology in outdoor advertising

    • Abuses of signage in commercial and industrial areas

    • The future of nonconforming signs

    • Control of vegetation in public right-of-way around billboards

    • Inconsistent regulation and enforcement

    • The organization of the OAC Program within FHWA

  3. OAC Program organizational issues at FHWA warrant attention and should be addressed through a forum that includes state regulators.

  4. A well-structured collaborative process holds promise as a means to address substantive issues. However, there are a number of conditions that need to be met for a collaborative policy dialogue to succeed. Most important among these are:

    • FHWA leadership, endorsement and active participation

    • Good faith participation by key stakeholders

    • Limited scope of issues

    • Commitment to produce results within a specified time period

  5. We recommend either a National Policy Dialogue or a Multi-State Policy Dialogue, as the first step toward resolving key substantive issues. Given the range of issues in conflict, we believe that, if a single approach is pursued, the National Policy Dialogue is preferred. We also identify other processes that can complement either of these approaches.

Although dialogue is not an end in itself, a well-conducted process is likely to generate a range of potential actions to enhance OAC effectiveness, from legislative proposals to regulatory and administrative changes. If mutually agreeable proposals are generated by a process that involves all key affected interests the chances of their successful implementation rise dramatically.

Updated: 04/02/2013
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