Advocacy Group Criticizes Plan to Advertise on Amber Alerts

Scenic America condemned California's proposed plan to allow advertisements on freeway signs used for Amber Alerts and other emergencies.

The national nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to removing visual blight published an eight-page position paper last week after news broke that advertisements might be posted on 674 electronic roadside message boards.

“The proposal is catastrophic for the citizens of California,” wrote Kevin Fry, president of Scenic America. “This proposal is patently illegal extraordinarily dangerous, and threatens not only the safety of the motoring public, but fundamentally undermines federal, state, and local sign control efforts, including the Highway Beautification Act and the core federal highway statute governing the appropriate use of the right-of-way.”

Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that the plan was introduced by Clear Channel, which stands to make millions if the proposal goes through. Legislation has already been drafted with the involvement of state Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster), who drafted the bill that brought the Amber Alert system to California. According to the Times, the Schwarzenegger administration “touted the idea” in a letter to the U.S. Transportation Secretary.

The proposal would be up for bid and the winner would replace the state's old emergency message signs with new flashy video screens that would show advertisements when it wasn’t posting Amber Alerts.

The proposal has also raised the ire of local traffic safety activists who believe that the advertisements would be too distracting to drivers.

"This proposal recklessly ignores issues of traffic safety, visual blight, and the ongoing privatization of public space by allowing our visual environment to be filled with commercial messages," says Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight. "Those signs were intended to give motorists important information about highway conditions and emergencies, not inducements to buy the latest products and services. No matter how badly the state needs revenue, this is absolutely the wrong way to go about raising it."

The funds raised – estimated at millions - would go towards the financially strapped highway fund.


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