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State cracking down on illegal billboards

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By Linda Ireland

 Several signs on Lincoln Parkway are under scrutiny by state officials – and owners may be required to remove those that do not follow the guidelines of federal law.

Representatives of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet met with county officials last week to discuss a “crackdown” on illegal signs on several Kentucky roadways – including Interstate 65 and Western Kentucky Parkway.

The KTC surveyed all signs on Lincoln Parkway, coming up with a list of 25-to-30 total, said Chris Jessie, spokesman for KTC. 

“We presented a list of signs ... the ones that are legal and those that are not legal,” said Jessie.

All signs along Lincoln Parkway are required to have a permit. A few did. Others did not have a permit but met the requirements to apply for one. Those sign owners will be required to obtain a permit.

About seven signs did not have a permit and would not qualify for one, said Planning and Zoning Commissioner Paul Lassanske. Those sign owners will receive letters from Frankfort notifying them to remove the signs.

“If that doesn’t do it, they will take legal action,” said Lassanske.

Jessie said the letters would advise property owners of the changes that should be made. If they don’t comply, the matter will be taken to court – a process described as “costly and time consuming for all parties.”

Some of the non-compliant signs were either within the state right-of-way, advertising for an off-site business or within an intersection.

“There shouldn’t be any signs in the intersection of Lincoln Boulevard and Lincoln Parkway,” said Lassanske. “Temporary signs are illegal due to safety concerns. The State said they try to keep those under control but they pop up like dandelions.”

Sign regulation is linked to federal funding – which was used to construct the parkway, said Lassanske. 

Under the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, Kentucky must control outdoor advertisements or risk losing some federal money for other transportation-related programs.

The state went through a similar situation a couple of years ago over a non-permitted sign that read, “Hell is real,” on I-65 near Upton. Lawmakers considered approving a billboard deregulation bill that would in effect, save the sign. They changed their minds when they received a warning letter from the Federal Highway Administration.

The defeated bill would have exempted non-commercial billboards – defined as those that don’t advertise products or services – that are on private property from the state Transportation Cabinet’s permitting process. 

The state’s decision comes as the local planning and zoning board is struggling to adopt a sign ordinance.

Although both LaRue Fiscal Court and Hodgenville City Council held first reading of an ordinance, neither group has held second reading which is necessary to adopt the law.

 The ordinance prohibited signs being placed in the viewshed corridor regardless of the zoning of the property. It does not affect signs already in place. The viewshed protects the appearance of roadways with scenic or historic value.

Lassanske said the planning and zoning commission may recommend the local adoption of the Highway Beautification Act “so the enforcement is put back on the local level.”