• Progress in Wisconsin on Billboard Maintenance

    By Kerry Yoakum

    In an important victory, Wisconsin has clarified repair and maintenance standards for nonconforming billboards, which comprise more than half of the billboard inventory in the state.

    On April 16, Governor Scott Walker signed legislation supported by the Outdoor Advertising Association of Wisconsin, led by executive director Kathi Kilgore.  The new law takes effect April 18.


    Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signs billboard legislation

    This legislation is extremely important to the industry in Wisconsin, because:

    • More than half of all billboards in Wisconsin are nonconforming, not because of a change made by the sign owner, but rather changes made by the State or local government. Furthermore, these nonconforming signs are not all wooden structures. In fact, fewer than 2% of all the billboards in Wisconsin along Wisconsin highways today existed when the Federal Highway Beautification Act (HBA) was implemented in 1972.


    • The statutes relating to nonconforming signs have not been changed since 1972 and, because they are so vague, the DOT and sign companies end up litigating what repairs and maintenance can be done to a nonconforming sign.

    The newly enacted legislation, defines terms used in the HBA and the Code of Federal Regulation.

    • The new definition of “destroyed” in the legislation comes from guidelines provided by the FHWA in 2009 and is based on a percentage of damage to a sign structure’s uprights. If the repairs to or the replacement of the uprights exceed 60% for wooden structures or 30% for metal structures within a 36-consencutive month time period, the sign is considered “destroyed.”
    • The legislation adds a definition for “customary maintenance” which clarifies what repairs can and cannot be made to a nonconforming sign. Of note, adding a new catwalk and/or safety rail is authorized under the definition of customary maintenance.
    • The definition of “substantial change” will clarify when a sign has been changed significantly enough that it becomes illegal.

    Additionally, the new legislation requires the DOT to notify sign owners when a sign’s status has been changed to nonconforming and allows sign owners 60 days to “cure” a change to a nonconforming sign that the DOT considers to be illegal.

    I congratulate the members of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Wisconsin and Executive Director and Lobbyist Kathi Kilgore for their diligent work in securing the passage of this important legislation.

    (Kerry Yoakum, an attorney, is vice president of government affairs at the Outdoor Advertising Association of America)



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