Outdoor Advertising History in Oregon

Back in the 1950s both the federal and state governments were at the beginning stages of pouring billions of dollars into the vast and interconnected highway systems we very much take for granted today. The automobile industry was thriving and quickly became the preferred method of transportation. Detroit and the oil companies won the lion share of the transpiration game and nothing was going to put a stop to the trend. Federal goals were to create a roadway system linking all cities and counties and eventually the entire country.

Oregon Outdoor Advertising History and Rules and Regulation

Keep Oregon Beautiful

There became a need to protect the roadway system from the over-commercialization of billboard signs indiscriminately strewn everywhere.  The need to protect rural and scenic areas was at the forefront of these efforts. The balance of maintaining the natural beauty of our country along these new roadways while allowing advertisers to make a living was a tricky proposition.

Oregon Joined with Federal Policy Early

Back then, the federal government offered additional funding allocated specifically for road projects to states that voluntarily participated in controlling roadway signage; Oregon signed-up in 1961.

The Highway Division of the Oregon Department of Transportation to this day maintains a Right of Way section that is responsible for surveillance and monitoring signage along Oregon highways.  When a sign is visible along a state highway in Oregon this state division has regulatory control.

Oregon’s Right of Way Division

The State of Oregon Right of Way division is responsible first for ensuring that Oregon’s highways are safe.  Then they want to maintain the beauty and athletics of the roadway corridors. It is important to note that private signs along state highway right of way zones are not allowed.  The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is responsible for removal of any signage found on these right of ways in accordance with the Oregon legislature’s policy of maintaining beautification along the states incredible scenic byways.

Federal Highway Money at Stake

The control of roadside highway signs is also important in order to ensure the state continues to meet Federal Highway Administration standards and guidelines for continued federal funding while striking a balance of meeting the sign needs of advertisers located along the highways.  This is done today via a state permit process.

Highway Beautification Act

October 22, 1965 brought the Highway Beautification Act into law with the signature of President Lyndon B. Johnson.  Championed by his wife Ladybird Johnson, the act made attempts to limit billboards and other outdoor advertising mediums along with other unsightly roadside eyesores such as junkyards.

During the signing ceremony, President Johnson had the following to say. “This bill will enrich our spirits and restore a small measure of our national greatness, beauty belongs to all the people. And so long as I am President, what has been divinely given to nature will not be taken recklessly away by man.” Oregon makes every attempt to maintain this spirit to this day.

Roadway Signage Today in Oregon

Today, Oregon regulates 8,000 miles of highway in relation to signage.  They continue to utilize a permit process to do so.  That permit process was challenged in 2006 by the Oregon Supreme Court when it ruled that sign permits violated state constitutional guarantee of free expression.  Requiring a permit for Off-Premise signs, while exempting On-Premise signs was looked at as a content based regulation. Inn responding to the court case, Oregon revisited and rewrote some of those permit statutes allowing the state to remain in compliance with the court ruling.

Today the state oversees over 1700 sign permits for off-site signage.  This allows Oregon to maintain control and limit roadside signs while retaining federal highway funding of 25 to 30 million dollars a year. Oregon continues to balance the needs of the advertising industry with the natural beauty of the land.