By Don Bolding

Killeen Daily Herald

Killeen is now home to about 20 light-emitting diode display signs – LED signs, for short – and they've been getting more controversial as potential traffic hazards.

Some of the brilliant, changeable signs are on roadways and some aren't. They seem ideal for sports events, for example, and others are small enough that they don't seem to be a problem. But the Texas Department of Transportation and its overseeing Texas Transportation Commission just enacted a set of regulations about them, and the Harker Heights City Council zipped through its own, more restrictive rules before the state regulations went into effect June 1.

Killeen is about to make some rules of its own. Cities can ban the signs entirely, and Amerillo and Liberty have.

The state decided to ban them outside the city limits or extraterritorial jurisdictions of cities. The prohibited features on signs away from a business' premises are:

Illumination by flashing, intermittent or moving lights.

Displays of animated, moving video, or scrolled advertising.

A static image projected on a stationary object.

A mobile sign on a truck or trailer.

The state also says that even within cities, electronic signs must be at least 1,500 feet away from each other on the same side of a roadway, and the displays can be only on one side. A sign on the premises of the business using it may employ moving images, but off-premises signs must display static images, which have to cover the whole sign face, for at least eight seconds and take no more than two seconds to change. They have to have a default mechanism that freezes the image in case of a malfunction and automatic equipment to adjust the intensity of the display according to ambient light conditions. A sign bright enough to draw attention in the noonday sun would look like the sun itself at midnight.

The state also says sign owners must cooperate with local authorities to display Amber alerts and other emergency messages in the advertising rotation. Sign owners also must adjust the brightness of signs TxDOT determines to pose a hazard and provide contact information to turn off a malfunctioning sign.

The sign owner must have a permit from the state and from the city, if the city issues permits.

TxDOT regional public affairs officer Ken Roberts of Waco supplied this information from the regulation book. Tuesday night, Killeen deputy city attorney Traci Briggs delivered a Powerpoint presentation with similar information at a city council workshop.

Councilmen Billy Workman and Fred Latham like the idea of the signs, and there was talk about turning Killeen's own welcome billboard into an LED funded by the hotel-motel tax. A conservative estimate of the cost is $150,000.

But Councilman Larry Cole said, "These signs seem to be a distraction in traffic. The town is a porcupine of signs already, and we don't need something to make it worse."

Attending the workshop was Mat Naegele, vice president and general manager of the nationwide Lamar Outdoor Advertising's facility in Temple, and he said that alarmed him. He said Lamar has not made any of the LED signs in Killeen, but he certainly doesn't want the option closed.

Naegele points out that a business owner or agent sitting at a keyboard can change a message on an LED board with no production costs. He said, "Putting your message out or changing it is as easy as sending an e-mail. Because of their flexibility, Smart Boards are perfect to advertise breaking news, one-day sales and special events."

He also voiced support for regulations, saying, "Traditional billboards are highly regulated, and digital displays should be as well. State and local governments are concerned about public safety, and so is Lamar Advertising." He particularly praised the provisions for cooperation in public emergencies.

After a telephone interview, he forwarded Web pages containing messages from senior Lamar officials urging proactive communications with emergency officials about techniques for displaying emergency alerts with local, statewide and national reaches in cases of missing children, tornadoes, hurricanes, chemical spills, dangerous fugitives and other possibilities. Already, the signs have carried news of the Minneapolis bridge collapse of several years ago and other emergencies.

The Harker Heights City Council, already known for its strict attitude about signage in the interest of the town's aesthetic appeal, passed some rules May 28 that added to the state regulations. The ordinance limits LED signs to U.S. 190 and Veterans Memorial Boulevard, sets daytime and nighttime maximum intensities, and requires a 10-second image display. It also limits the surface message area to 672 feet. Advertising images cannot resemble warning signs.

Lamar officials were there, too, assuring the council that they were happy to use the signs for more than Amber alerts.

That was easy.

In Killeen, Briggs said she is working on an ordinance that would permit the signs with a few additions, including rules about the intensity of lights. The state insists on a daytime-nighttime change but otherwise doesn't say how bright a sign can be. The drafted ordinance may be debated, but it seems certain the roadside of the future will be more colorful.

Contact Don Bolding at or call (254) 501-7557.

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