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Gainesville considers allowing digital billboards
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The city of Gainesville is considering allowing digital billboards to be erected within the city limits, but concerns remain about how distracting such electronic signs might be to drivers.

There are 67 billboards in Gainesville; all but one owned by Fairway Outdoor Advertising.

Tim Hall, real estate representative with Fairway, said each digital billboard, which can cost between $100,000 and $250,000 to construct, has the capability of displaying six different advertisements. He is proposing each ad would show for 10 seconds before flipping.

Fairway owns an additional 32 billboards across Hall County, where digital billboards are allowed.

However, Hall said the restrictions imposed on digital billboards in the county, specifically the requirement ads change only every 20 seconds, makes it cost-prohibitive for Fairway.

“I tried to explain to them that we can’t do anything with a 20-second flip,” he said. “I can’t get advertisers.”

If approved in Gainesville, Hall said Fairway would begin constructing digital billboards at traffic lights and intersections where billboards already are located. The digital billboards would be equipped with LED lighting and have a life span of about seven years, he said.

Additionally, Gainesville City Council would likely have to sign off on every new digital billboard.

Concerns about cluttering the local landscape with more and more billboards would be addressed by requiring the removal of old billboards before a digital one could be put up.

“This code amendment will be written to require anyone wanting to construct a digital billboard to take down at least two existing billboards,” Community Development Director Rusty Ligon said.

Several council members expressed satisfaction with this added benefit.

“I think it will give us a better, cleaner look,” Councilman Sam Couvillon said.

Hall said an additional benefit of the digital billboards is they can be tied into emergency warning systems, such as Amber Alert, as well as provide weather, traffic and other public safety information for motorists.

“I really think it’s the wave of the present, as well as the wave of the future,” Councilman George Wangemann said. “I think this is definitely an improvement.”

But concerns digital billboards might distract drivers, resulting in more accidents, must be addressed before everyone is on board.

“To me, it forces you to take your eyes off the road,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said. “Some of them are just real bright.”

A study by the Federal Highway Administration reported digital billboards “did not appear to be related to a decrease in looking toward the road ahead.”

Hall said digital billboards are less bright and distracting than ever before thanks to advances in technology.

“Digital billboards used to scare people, and they still do in a way because it makes you think of New York City or Vegas,” he said, adding that Gainesville residents can expect advertisements to flip in the blink of an eye, rather than a slow fade in or fade out, reducing the potential for distraction.

Ligon said he is preparing a draft code amendment to present to City Council sometime in the next few months. Limits on brightness, transition time between ads and the distance between billboards remains to be determined, he said.

“The devil will certainly be in the details regarding changing our code to allow digital billboards,” Ligon said.