Debate shifts to Highway 23

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

HUNTSVILLE ---- Turnout was lighter, and opposition less strident, for Monday's public hearing by the Arkansas Highway Department regarding making Highway 23 a Scenic Byway, than it was for a similar hearing regarding Highway 21 in Berryville on July 26.

Still, it appeared to be a hard sell for Doyle Cochran, who spearheaded the West Northwest Scenic Byway Committee, backing the proposal.

Cochran stated his motivation in proposing the 283-mile byway, which takes in portions of four state highways, primarily south of the Arkansas River, was to enhance tourism, which in turn would promote real estate sales and home construction, thus increasing values and taxes paid for the support of public schools.

Gene Wingate, of Wingate Outdoor Advertising of Berryville, countered that restrictions on signage on Arkansas Scenic Byways could likely reduce employment opportunities. "On the surface it sounds like something you would want to support, but I think that the long-term effect is not nearly so rosy."

Robert Woodum of the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce questioned AHD officials regarding the difference in sign regulations between Arkansas Scenic Highways, Arkansas Scenic Byways, and those highways falling under the National Highway Beautification Act.

AHD places no restrictions on scenic highways, as is the case of Scenic Highway 23 north of Eureka Springs. Highway 23 south of Eureka Springs, however, is under the beautification act, so existing signage may remain, but no new signs, other than those on the premises of the business they advertise, are permitted.

Segmentation, that is removing an area along the highway and controlled by a governmental entity from the designation, is done by the committees proposing such byways. Currently 1.45 miles of Highway 10 within the corporate limits of Greenwood have been excluded from Cochran's proposal.

Businessman and entrepreneur Moscow Cash of Harrison claimed that because of advertising restrictions on Highway 7 Scenic Byway, many enterprises between Harrison and Jasper have gone out of business.

In response to a comment by Wingate, AHD spokesmen said that, for the most part, existing off-premise signs along scenic byways cannot be rebuilt. Off-premise signs along highways under the National Highway Beautification Act may not be permitted in the same area, but may be allowed in another area.

AHD officials also stated no economic impact study regarding Scenic Highway 7 has been produced.

AHD regulations do not distinguish between sizes of signs, so even off-premise Tyson signage pointing to a poultry grower's farm would be restricted.

Arkansas Scenic Highway signage restrictions follow those of National Scenic Byways

Jim Blevins, of Berryville, who makes signs for outdoor advertising companies, stated that directional signage for tourists is just as important as AHD signage for traffic hazards, and thus advance notice of a business is necessary, particularly in a tourism-oriented area such as Eureka Springs.

If a tourist drives by a diner with just an on-premise sign at 55 miles per hour, he will probably not turn around, he said. "In Carroll County we have a fair amount of tourism," he said. "If [by creating a scenic byway] we are trying to increase tourism, we may be shooting ourselves in the foot if we cut signs. Signs are important to travelers and businesses."

Cash predicted that, because elimination of signage would limit commercial development, land values would probably drop. He decried the erosion of personal property rights, citing the Crooked Creek issue in Boone County, recent restrictions placed on fertilizing farm land, and highway department restrictions on salvage yards within 1,000 feet of National Highway Beautification Act highways.

Highway department officials stated they were not familiar with a Highway Beautification Act provision allowing sites on the National Register of Historic Places to have up to three signs without a permit.

Under a Tourism-Oriented Destination Signage (TODS) program, currently under development, spacing and quantity of signage, produced by the highway department, will be regulated. Businesses within 15 miles of an intersection along a state highway may have have to four signs.

Caroline Still of Huntsville said that she believes Cochran "has the cart before the horse. We've given up property rights, and I do not think that a Scenic Byway will cause any more improvement than the highways that are here now."

Written comments about the West Northwest Scenic Byways, will be taken until Aug. 22. Written comments about the Highway 21 Scenic Byway proposal will be taken until Aug. 20.

Written comments may be mailed to AHTD, Attention Planning and Research, P.O. Box 2261, Little Rock, AR 72202-2261; or e-mailed to mail@arkansashighways.com

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