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Commentary: More Distracting Than Cellphones - Billboards on the Highway

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, February 12, 2010
Governor Schwarzenegger wants to sell advertising space on state highway message boards. You laugh – but the proposal is serious.
If approved, existing message boards – the ones used to alert drivers to road hazards or kidnapped kids – would be upgraded and converted to colorful electronic billboards. The state would then lease the billboards. It’s estimated California could raise $2 billion dollars over 20 years for just 500, and the state has thousands.
But, there's a hitch. Because the billboards would operate within interstate highway right of ways, the plan requires an OK from the federal highway administration. I'm betting the feds say no - that those pesky bureaucrats might consider a flashing ad for underarm deodorants in the middle of a freeway a road hazard.
If the state really needs cash, why not sell ad space on state buildings? Think about it. A Chevron ad on California’s Environmental Protection Agency headquarters; San Quentin's death row sponsored by a funeral home; The Capitol dome brought to you by Cache Creek Casino one month, Verizon the next.
Crass? Of course, but no more so than state sponsored billboards on freeways. And at least an ad on the Capitol dome wouldn't be a road hazard.
Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.
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