Federal highway funding for the state is no longer threatened, now that an illegal billboard has been taken down from a hillside visible from the New York State Thruway, according to the state Department of Transportation.
Local officials and state and federal legislators all went to bat for the Johnstown Holiday Inn’s billboard, which fell down in 2006 and lost its immunity from the federal Highway Beautification Law of 1965. The law limits outdoor advertising in highway right-of-ways, but the Johnstown Holiday Inn’s billboard was erected before the law was enacted, so it enjoyed “grandfathered” status.
That was until the 20-by-100-foot sign came down under high winds. When it was rebuilt, it violated the law, which does not afford grandfathered status to replacement structures.
State legislators passed a law in 2012 trying to get around the federal requirement, but that law was deemed invalid because state laws are trumped by federal laws.
Hotel manager Jim Landrio, who campaigned to save the sign, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The billboard, which alerted motorists that the Johnstown Holiday Inn on North Comrie Avenue is about 12 miles away, was one of several means by which guests are drawn to Fulton County, said Mark Kilmer, director of the Fulton-Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s just another benefit to have that sign there,” he said.
Kilmer said the chamber’s support wasn’t advocacy for putting a new sign in a pristine area nor a battle against federal law.
“It was there for so long, and it predates the Beautification Act. We didn’t see any logic to tearing that sign down,” he said.
Advertising for natural wonders, scenic and historic attractions are among signs deemed acceptable in the federal law. The law, aimed at improving the view along the country’s highways, required some signs be removed and junkyards be shielded from the view of passing motorists.
Though the sign’s removal is a blow to tourism promotion, Fulton County Tourism Director Gina DaBiere-Gibbs said there are others elements to the effort.
“Fulton County Tourism uses many means of tourism promotion utilizing the I LOVE NY Matching Funds program,” she said by email. “Our multimedia campaign includes print, Internet, radio, collateral, social media, etc. We send a weekly events e-blast populated from the events submitted to www.44lakes.com, our tourism website. The goal is to advertise Fulton County outside of a 50-mile radius.”
State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Carol Breen said the state hasn’t lost highway money due to the fracas.
“We have not lost and will not lose any federal highway funding since the sign has been taken down,” she said by email.