Vermont House Passes Bill for Highway Advertising

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(Host) After several hours of debate, the Vermont House on this afternoon voted in favor of a plan to allow new signs near interstate exits that would advertise nearby food, gas and lodging businesses. The vote on this provision was 78 to 55.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) House members debated a key question during their consideration of the annual Transportation bill. Would new signs along the interstate alerting drivers to business opportunities at the next exit be a violation in spirit of the state’s billboard law? Or would they provide important information to tourists?

Up to four signs would be allowed about a mile from the upcoming exit ¿ restaurants, gas stations and lodging establishments would be grouped together on their own sign. Each sign would have four panels on it; each panel would be 3 by 5 feet and would advertise a specific business.

Brattleboro Representative Donald Webster urged House members to remove this provision from the Transportation bill:

(Webster) "What’s the harm? In my opinion, it’s a setback on the scenic values of our interstate for Vermonters and visitors. Secondly, it’s a real dent on the very positive image of Vermont that distinguishes us in our marketing from other states. It puts a dent on that positive image by bringing commercial activity onto our highways and byways where they never have been recently at least."

(Kinzel) But Grand Isle Representative John LaBarge argued that the signs would be good for the state’s tourist industry:

(LaBarge) "What you might see are signs for Vermont businesses run by Vermonters, who have sweat equity in their businesses, who would like to succeed. I think it’s time. I don’t like to see billboards, I’m real proud that this state has an anti-billboard law, but these aren’t billboards¿. And I think it’s time that we offered our visiting tourists some information so that they can more easily find what they need to find in our state to enjoy our state."

(Kinzel) During the course of its debate over the transportation bill, the House defeated an effort to restore $2.6 million in funds for the Champlain Flyer, a commuter rail project in Chittenden County.

Opponents of the train argued that the project is a waste of money because it doesn’t attract enough riders. However backers said it was important to allow the pilot project to run its full three-year schedule before making any long term decisions about it.

It’s likely that the Senate will restore the funds for the train when it takes up the transportation bill in the next few weeks.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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