In the 1950s, the state and federal governments were investing billions of dollars in the interstate and state highway systems. They wanted to protect the citizens’ asset by ensuring that the roads did not become cluttered with signs, especially in rural and other scenic areas. The first federal laws allowed for voluntary compliance, and Oregon elected to participate starting in 1961. By agreeing to specific regulations for signs along the interstates, Oregon was awarded additional federal money on its interstate highway projects.
In 1965, Congress passed the Highway Beautification Act, championed by the President’s wife, Lady Bird Johnson. This law required the states to “effectively control” signs along interstates and most state highways, or risk losing 10% of annual highway funding. Oregon passed laws to carry out the federal law and added further regulation to preserve our state’s unique beauty.
In 2006 the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that our sign permit requirement violated the state’s constitutional guarantee of free expression. Therefore the 2007 Legislature revamped the laws to correct that problem while still maintaining Oregon’s scenic assets and full federal funding.
Today we regulate 8,000 miles of highway, have approximately 1,750 active sign permits, and help to maintain Oregon’s beauty, as well as secure $25 - $30 million per year in continued federal highway funding.
The sign program supports itself through assessment of permit fees.