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Caltrans may sell advertising: A sign of the times

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POSTED August 14, 2009 1:56 a.m.
Caltrans is toying with an idea to allow advertising on the hundreds of electronic message signs along California freeways such as those along the Highway 120 Bypass.

If the transportation agency gets their way, does it mean we will one day get pitches for beer in between Amber alerts, road hazard advisories and message such as to call 9-1-1 to report drunken drivers?

Caltrans’ proposal is no less disturbing than one that is making its way through the California Legislature to allow families to pay Caltrans to put up memorial signs along the state’s highways and freeways for loved ones killed in auto accidents.

Both measures beg the question: What is wrong with us?

Caltrans should be charged with operating and maintaining the public’s road system not selling roadside advertising even if it is to honor the memory of someone who has died in accidents upon asphalt they oversee. They should not generate revenue from signs intended to promote public safety by hawking feminine hygiene products or whatever the highest bidder is willing to pay. Nor should they be in the business of cluttering up out roadways with more distractions.

Caltrans has set the threshold high to place many directional signs along state highways such as the one noting the Airport Way exit is how to reach the Big League Dreams sports complex. Unless cities can prove there are hundreds of thousands upon hundreds of thousands of people trying to find such a location, a city is out of luck even if they are willing to pay for it.

Yet all of a sudden everyone is going great guns to allow memorial markings as well as electronic advertising between Amber alerts and “slow traffic ahead” messages.

The idea of selling space on electronic message boards designed to promote public safety is repulsive.

Of course, one dare not say that about memorial signs – or should they?

Cluttering up roadsides with state-sponsored messages that have nothing to do with driving safety or how to get from Point A to Point B isn’t what one would expect from state leaders – or Caltrans for that matter – given the fact they’re the ones who are lecturing us about distractions while driving.
Talking with a cell phone in our hands, texting, or doing bizarre things like shaving or reading a magazine while one drives is insane.

The basic philosophy behind memorial signs kind of makes sense. It is supposed to encourage us to remember people can die on the roads through inattentiveness or while driving under the influence.

The argument is the signs are better - and safer – than the numerous crosses with makeshift memorials that pop up along roadways. The sponsors of the legislation argue it is a lot safer for Caltrans workers who often have to remove the crosses as they are often in the operational area of the highway right of way adjacent to the paved shoulder.

It is natural to have empathy for families of accident victims. However, our highway and freeway system were not created as places to memorialize the dead.

Cluttering up freeways doesn’t enhance safety.

California is desperate for money. Selling message time on electronic safety signs isn’t the way to go. Besides, who is going to decide what can be advertised? Will it include beer, political candidates, proposition campaigns, or recruitment messages for the KKK? It is a Pandora’s Box that Caltrans should not even think about opening.

And even though the memorial sign program is designed to simply charge enough to cover costs, we must remember Caltrans should make public safety No. 1. Putting up signs that have nothing to do with the maintenance or use of freeway and highways or directions for travel does not exactly promote public safety.
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