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Friday, Oct. 24, 2014

Highway Signs and Lady Bird Johnson

Monday, November 7, 2011

Do traveling families still play the alphabet game? If so I doubt it is as much fun, since that darn Lady Bird Johnson pretty much did away with billboards along the highways. A couple months ago Heather and I spotted an official looking highway sign west of Dubois, WY, saying, "Stuck in the Alphabet Game? Q X Y Z. You're Welcome"

Those letters, along with "J" were hard to find! As a kid, we knew where the Quaker State Oil, D-X gas, and Blatz beer signs were on the road to Sioux City. Our rules didn't allow us to use official signs or anything on a vehicle, but now those are necessary, thanks to the former first lady. The game actually helped young'uns learn to read strange words!

Common sense was missing the night the federal Highway Beautification Act passed in 1965, following much aggressive lobbying by President LBJ's wife. States are required to regulate billboards unless they want to lose highway funding, and of course that stipulation effectively makes it a mandate. Only Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii and Maine totally ban billboards, but the law, and rules promulgated by the Iowa DOT have the same effect on new Interstate signs.

Although older signs have been "grandfathered" in, no new signs may be erected in Iowa, "for as far as visibility allows," in rural areas, so don't expect to see many new ones since you couldn't see them! The distance in cities is within 660 feet of an interstate highway. Of course only wealthy businesses can afford signs large enough to be effective. Another nail in the coffin of the little rural guys across the country. Primary road regs are not much more lenient.

After 13 hours of debate, it was nearly one a.m. when the House passed the highway beauty bill on that 1965 night when members and spouses had been invited to a social gathering at the White House. Democrats greatly outnumbered Republicans in the House, as it had every term except one since the end of WW2. Repubs in the House did outnumber Dems four years in that span.

Rep. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) offered an amendment to strike out the term "Secretary of Commerce" wherever it appeared and insert the words "Lady Bird"--apparently an implication that the First Lady was in charge of the operation. He lost by a voice vote.

Rep. H. R. Gross (R-Iowa) referred to a recent news picture of a Texas billboard advertising the Johnson family's television station and wondered if the President might sign the bill there.

Few of us want a return to the sign-stacked-on-sign days of Georgia, or unfenced junkyards, but it is a shame that we "threw the baby out with the bath water," for signage is important to travelers. A partial, reasonable, ban would have been more sensible, for signs can contribute to safer, more enjoyable travels. Who, other than Gillette, would object to the return of the Burma Shave signs? And, knowing that a little detour can take you to landmarks such as a famous restaurant (Archie's Waeside) is important, more important than blocking the view of another cornfield.

Ever wonder who can advertise a business at an Interstate off ramp? With some exceptions, the businesses must be properly licensed, have a public telephone, be located within three miles of the exit, and offer either gas, food, lodging, camping, or be a tourist attraction.

A food business must offer three meals a day, be open six days a week, and seat at least ten customers. IDOT charges $230 per sign, per year, which covers only the installation and maintenance. One sign company quotes $350 for the sign production, so that adds to more than a thousand bucks per interchange, the first year, $460 thereafter. Try that on the profits from ten seats!

Gas services must provide fuel, oil, and water, free air or tire repair, restrooms, and operate at least 12 hours per day, seven days a week, year-round. Lodging services must provide adequate sleeping accommodations; have at least ten units (except for bed and breakfasts).

Camping services must be provide adequate parking accommodations, and agree to seasonal removal/masking of Logo signs (if applicable).

Tourist Attractions must be nationally or regionally known, maintain adequate hours of operation, provide restrooms and drinking water, adequate parking, agree to seasonal removal/masking of Logo Signs (if applicable) and qualify as one of the following: a natural phenomena, historic site, cultural site, scientific site, accredited college or university, religious site, area of natural beauty, or area suited for outdoor recreation

Remembering Buzz Merkel, paint store operator and sign painter north of Vollmar's Shoes in the 1960's. Don Paulin, 2carpenterdon@gmail.com, 7557 30th Av, Norwalk, IA 50211 - 515-201-7236 -30-

By Don Paulin
Been There, Done That