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Philadelphia City Council Rescinds New Billboard Law After PennDOT Pushback

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- City Council today withdrew a bill it had passed earlier this month which could have boosted the number of digital billboards in Philadelphia.

The recall comes after the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced that it is revoking the city's ability to regulate billboards along major Philadelphia roadways.

Two weeks ago, City Council passed a sweeping overhaul of billboard regulations, but that was followed last week by a surprise move by Penndot: the state agency revoked the city's authority to regulate billboards along state highways in the city.

So now, the sponsor of the City Council measure, Sixth District councilman Bobby Henon, has recalled his bill to go back to the drawing board.

"I don't know if Penndot is doing its own enforcement to screw the City of Philadelphia," Henon said today.  "It is unprecedented for Penndot and the state to take back authority.  But again, the prudent and the responsible thing is to recall (the bill) and leave it sit until we can figure this thing out."

Penndot officials said they revoked the city's power to regulate billboards because of fear that local laws endangered federal highway funding.

Henon says neither he nor the Nutter administration is clear on the impact of this move, so recalling the bill is the responsible thing to do.

"Am I happy about it?  I'm absolutely not happy," Henon said.  "A lot of work was put into this piece of legislation -- a little more than three years of time and effort.  I thought we were at a good place in which all the stakeholders were involved.  But now that continuity seems to have been broken, so we're trying to figure it out."

A key feature of Henon's bill was that existing static billboards could be converted to digital  in certain parts of the city, as long as the owner removed two other static billboards.   It also imposed new restrictions, including limits on the distance of digital billboards from residential neighborhoods, and from other billboards.

Henon's measure also capped the brightness of the digital signs, and imposed new licensing fees on the billboard owners.   Henon predicted that the measure would have led to fewer billboards in total, but more of them would be digital.

Penndot officials says  the state currently receives $1.5 billion from Washington for highways, and the billboard issues threatened a withholding of ten percent of that, or $150 million.  The highways that Penndot controls include I-95, the Schuylkill Expressway, the Vine Street Expressway, Market Street, and Broad Street.

Henon says state roads affect about 90 percent of the billboards in the city.



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