Albuquerque set to get more electronic billboards

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Electronic billboards are designed to grab your attention while you’re on the road. You’re about to notice even more of them along I-25 and I-40.

On Monday, City Council voted unanimously to allow regular billboards along the interstates to convert to electronic billboards. Not everyone loves the idea.

“I’m not a big fan of them,” said driver Clifford Crise. “I travel a lot at night up and down the I-40 corridor. I see them. They do have a tendency to mess up your night vision.”

Up until now, electronic signs along the interstates have been limited. In 2002, the city decided billboards couldn’t be within 1/8 mile from the edge of I-25 or I-40. Existing billboards, static or electronic, within that 660-feet rule could stay, but the static billboards couldn’t be converted to electronic signs without being in violation of the rule.

Under the bill sponsored by Councilor Trudy Jones, those static billboards that were grandfathered into the rule can now become electronic signs without a problem.

Not everyone embraced the idea. A staff report prepared by Catalina Lehner with the city’s planning department recommended that City Council deny the proposal, citing concerns about how the signs are designed to get driver’s attention.

“This could benefit the signage industry at the expense of public health, safety, and welfare,” Lehner wrote.

Lehner also said the signs could be detrimental to the scenic views Albuquerque is known for, creating a landscape of electronic signs that compete with “views of mesas and open spaces.”

In January, commissioners with Environmental Planning decided to recommend the bill after hearing a presentation from a Clear Channel employee, who pointed out that the billboards could be used to display public safety announcements like Amber Alerts.

Under the bill, converted billboards would still have to follow existing rules for electronic signs, such as limits to size and brightness.

Jones says more electronic billboards will actually mean fewer billboards overall because of cap-and-trade rules for electronic signs.

“The people that own existing billboards, when they put up one new electronic in these areas, they must take down three existing,” Jones said.

“We don’t want to be a city of billboard, billboard, billboard,” she said. “Have you driven up I-25 lately? It’s not pretty.”

The digital signs currently along I-40 and I-25 were either existing electronic signs when the old rule was adopted or are located on state-owned land, like the University of New Mexico.

Mayor Berry still has to sign off on the bill. Once that happens, existing static signs could be converted within weeks.

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