Bill promotes more electronic billboards in Arizona

PHOENIX — Pulling apart what was a carefully crafted deal, a House panel voted Tuesday night to open up a much larger area of the state to electronic billboards.

Current law limits these signs — and the light pollution they cause — to a corridor that stretches from Phoenix west along I-10 and I-8 to the California border. The deal hammered out in 2012 made the rest of the state off limits in an effort to protect Arizona’s astronomy industry.

HB 2507 would allow the signs through most of Mohave and La Paz counties, up to the Utah border.

The push is coming from Lamar Advertising. Lobbyist Tim LaSota said his client, which was not involved in the 2012 deal, wants to erect these signs in northwest Arizona.

Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu, agreed to sponsor the measure for Lamar.

He said the area he wants to open to the billboards is not close to any of the state’s existing observatories. Anyway, he said, the billboards are at ground level; the observatories are on mountaintops.

But Angela Cotera, a physicist, told members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that it’s not that simple.

She said light from these billboards travels out horizontally. More to the point, Cotera said, the effect of these billboards is cumulative.

“They are incredible light polluters,” Cotera said.

Borrelli was unconvinced.

“I drive that route every weekend,” he said.

“It’s pitch black out there,” Borrelli continued. “I don’t see a problem.”

The measure passed on a 5-3 vote, with Rep. Chris Ackerley, R-Sahuarita, abstaining. Ackerley said he is sensitive to the needs of the astronomy community and wants more information before the measure goes to the full House.

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