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The End of Highway Beautification?

Ladybird Johnson Wiki

It has been nearly a half-century since President Lyndon Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird Johnson, used her influence with the president to push through the Highway Beautification Act of 1965.

The law banned billboards, roadside restaurants, gas stations and other unsightly commercial enterprises on all Interstate highways being constructed in the 60s to move America quickly around the stoplights and strip malls that once lined the roads from here to there.

One exception was toll roads that were part of the national Interstate system, where “rest stops” meant motorists didn’t have to exit the highway to find food & fuel. States have found them to be goldmines, and now several are pushing for Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio’s amendment 1742 to the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act 2012. It would allow states to construct restaurant complexes alongside Interstate highways where they’re currently banned. Joining Senator Portman in the House were Ohio Congressmen Steve LaTourette (Rep) and Dennis Kucinich (Dem) with their own bipartisan amendment.[1]

The bill passed the House in February 2012, but has not been adopted into law.

One study claims local restaurants will likely see their business plummet by as much as 44% if drivers no longer need to get off to eat.[2]

Not surprisingly, a powerful consortium of lobby groups working together under the banner of the Partnership To Save Highway Communities has coalesced around fighting this legislative end-run. It includes the Petroleum Marketing Association of America, the National Association of Convenience Stores, the National Association of Truck Stop Operators and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America. The groups says it represents 97,000 “highway-based businesses” employing up to 2 million workers who will be harmed if the legislation goes through. The National Restaurant Association is monitoring the fight, too.

[1] The House version is known as the Surface Transportation Bill.

[2] Source: Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute.

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