A bill that would authorize advertisements on freeway signs used for Amber Alerts and other emergencies in California is headed for a state senate committee hearing next week.
Called the “State Highway Operation and Protection Program Emergency Funding Act,” the bill would allow Caltrans to turn over maintenance of highway signs to a private company that would display flashy video screen advertising when it wasn't posting Amber Alerts. In exchange, the funds raised – estimated at millions – would go towards the financially strapped highway fund.
Senate Bill 485, which is sponsored by Senator Rod Wright (D-Los Angeles), comes on the heels of Assemblyman Mike Feuer's bill to impose a two-year moratorium on digital signs. Wright's bill is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee on April 28 – two days before Feuer's bill will go before the Governmental Organizations Committee.
Wright's bill would allow Caltrans to seek competitive bids, and
requires that a demonstration project be established to determine the
safety of the signs.
The money making scheme first came to light last year when the Los Angeles Times reported that the Schwarzenegger administration was considering a plan to allow 674 electronic roadside message boards.
The Times reported
that the plan was introduced by Clear Channel, which stands to make
millions if the proposal goes through. However, the proposal raised the
ire of traffic safety activists who believe that the advertisements
would be too distracting to drivers.
“Caltrans floated this idea in a letter to the then-Bush
Administration but they never submitted a formal application due to
major pushback from us and others,” said Scenic California president
Kevin Fry. “I thought this thing was dead or seriously wounded. It
looked like it wasn't going anywhere.”