ODOT: Large billboards have to be removed

COLUMBUS (AP) -- Towering advertisements meant to liven up downtown must be removed from the sides of buildings because they exceed federal size limits, U.S. highway regulators said.
The signs along U.S. Route 23 include murals of a stretching woman in a beer advertisement and a balding guy for an insurance sales pitch. In another, a Mini Cooper is affixed to the side of a building.
The signs violate the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which limits billboards along U.S. highways to 1,200 square-feet, the Federal Highway Administration said Wednesday in a letter to the Ohio Department of Transportation.
The signs, which are up to four times larger than the limit, could cost the state $100 million in federal highway taxes if they aren't removed, ODOT said.
ODOT ordered Orange Barrel Media, which erected the signs about a year ago, to remove them in April. The company refused, and this month ODOT began levying $100-a-day fines against Orange Barrel and owners of two of the buildings carrying the mammoth billboards.
Several development groups and U.S. Rep. Deborah Pryce have filed letters of support for the Downtown Commission's graphics plan.
Commission Chairman Harrison Smith said ODOT and federal highway regulators are unfairly targeting the city.
"I don't think this is happening in Circleville, in Toledo, Cleveland or Cincinnati," he said. "It's somehow happening in Columbus, Ohio, and nowhere else. I really think that we're the victim of overwhelmingly selective enforcement."
The department plans to send the case to the attorney general today, calling for the removal of a public nuisance, Lindsay Mendicino, spokeswoman for ODOT, said.
Mendicino knows of no other Ohio cities that are not in compliance with the federal advertising regulations, she said. ODOT has successfully sought billboard removal in Cincinnati and Toledo in the past, she said.

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