Modern Highway Billboard Gets Judge’s Green Light

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Without reaching the question of whether digital billboards are unsightly or unsafe, a federal judge found no reason to block agency guidance supporting them.
     Scenic America sued the U.S. Department of Transportation last year over the guidance, which it claimed violated the antiquated Highway Beautification Act of 1965, which banned billboards that use flashing, intermittent or moving lights.
     “This administrative-law dispute involves a conundrum that has long bedeviled the federal courts: How should rules written in the past apply to new and unforeseen circumstances in the present?” U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote in dismissing the case with prejudice Friday.
     The 1965 is one of several regulations and federal-state agreements that govern outdoor advertising.
     While those agreements banned billboards that use “flashing, intermittent, or moving” lights, Boasberg noted that “advertising science, however, has evolved since the Mad Men era of the 1960s.”
     “No longer content to simply mount Don Draper’s slogans along the highway, advertisers now want to reach their audiences via new, digital technology,” he added.
     Dedicated to preserving the country’s visual beauty, Scenic America claimed that the agency’s guidance bypassed the mandatory notice-and-comment rulemaking process required by the Administrative Procedure Act.
     Boasberg disagreed.
     “Although the court does not pass judgment on whether digital billboards are a boon or a blight, sightly or unsightly, safe or unsafe, it does conclude that defendants and intervenor have the better of the argument here,” the 29-page opinion states. “The 2007 Guidance might not have offered the best interpretation of the lighting standards, but it did constitute an interpretation, rather than a substantive change.”
     The guidance allowing digital billboards defines them as “signs that use light-emitting diodes to display their messages.”
     Outdoor Advertising Association of America had intervened in the case as a defendant.

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