I-95 expansion could see billboard shakeup in Port Richmond, Bridesburg

Through the ongoing I-95 Revive project, more than 60 billboards along the stretch of highway could be removed and replanted in locations about 350 feet away from the road.

Last week, the City Council Rules Committee pushed forward a bill that would make the relocation of these billboards a possibility.

This bill has proved controversial; the billboards would be placed in new locations and some, like the Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight, or SCRUB, worried the billboards could retain illegal dimensions — too high or wide — or be replaced with flashy, distracting video signs.

An updated version of an earlier bill that passed through the City Council’s Rules Committee last week has provisions that would ensure that the advertising signs wound not become video billboards, and relocated signs cannot exceed the heights or dimensions of the existing billboards.

Yet, throughout many areas, stretching from Allegheny Avenue to Rhawn Street, in Councilwoman Joan Krajewski’s 6th district, the bill would have no effect.

According to Chris Creelman, Krajewski’s chief of staff, many of the billboards through Krajewski’s district currently are illegal. They might have been erected too high to too large for current regulations, or might have been erected on property on which they shouldn’t have been placed.

The I-95 expansion project allow the district to remove many of the offending billboards, and the councilwoman’s office seems to not want to repeat mistakes of the past and allow illegal billboards to simply move elsewhere.

“We would be giving owners of illegal billboards carte blanche,” said Creelman. “The whole thing with the billboards, we just weren’t comfortable doing.”

During last week’s hearing, representatives from the corporations that own the billboards on I-95, such as CBS Outdoor Advertising and Steen Outdoor Advertising, testified that the billboards offer “free information” and could be considered a public service, while they also offer advertising and other messages.

“The most vibrant cities in the world are cities that have outdoor advertising,” said Terry L. Steen, president of Steen Outdoor Advertising.

Steen expressed concern that without being allowed to relocate their billboards, once I-95 is widened, the companies would lose income and hundreds of employees could lose their jobs.

Also, he said, by providing informational advertising or public service announcements on billboards, his company alone provided more than $1.4 million in advertising for charity last year.

“I’m being taken to the cleaners,” said Steen, saying he would lose income if the bill wasn’t pushed forward for approval.

Tom Potts, who heads the Neighborhood Advisory Committee for the New Kensington Community Development Corp. was on hand during the meeting, and testified that, currently, not all billboards along I-95 were in compliance with citywide regulations.

When the billboards are moved, Potts said he’d “like to see them all fall under compliance.”

Stephanie Kindt, a staff attorney for SCRUB, agreed with Potts.

“Put them back up under compliance or not at all,” she said.

Representatives for the advertising companies seemed certain that they would be able to relocate and would make the new billboards in compliance with current regulations.

Yet, Krajewkski’s district will remain exempt from any elements of the new bill.

In her district, when the billboards are moved through the ongoing construction project, the billboards owners would need to reapply for permits as if they were building new signs and not simply relocating them.

Creelman said that, from Rhawn Street south to Allegheny Avenue, I-95 billboards couldn’t simply be relocated.

“Where does it end?” he asked.

At last week’s meeting Bill 100678 was approved by the Rules Committee. It will receive a final vote at the next full meeting of City Council, scheduled for Thursday, June 16.

Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215–354–3124 or hmitman@bsmphilly.com