Since Mayor Eddie Perez has asked for public input on an idea to add billboards along I-91 in Hartford, put us down as a "no."
Mr. Perez floated the idea of allowing a half-dozen billboards on city land and using the revenues to rebuild the city's sorry bus shelters. The tentative plan would squeeze one more billboard in the South Meadows near the Wethersfield line and five or so in front of the landfill north of downtown.
First of all, it's not clear why the city is thinking of a bus shelter fund when the Capitol Region Council of Governments has been working for years on a plan to have CT Transit manage the region's shelters, and it is finally coming together.
Under the plan, which will be discussed at a CRCOG meeting Monday, CT Transit will be responsible for the maintenance of bus shelters, while the towns in which the shelters are located will continue to handle trash collection and snow removal (iffy in Hartford's case) around the shelters. Regional management of shelters makes a great deal of sense. Hartford officials say they are aware of the regional plan but are offering the fund as another possible option.
Let's stick with Plan A. Hartford is too cluttered with billboards as it is. I-91 is a gateway to the city. We'd like it to look like a state capital, not a dorm room.
The landfill in the North Meadows may seem like a natural environment for billboards, on the theory that it can't possibly look worse. But the landfill is going to close at the end of next year, and probably become a park or other passive recreation area. If that effort is successful, a string of billboards would be a detriment. The South Meadows along I-91 is also thick with billboards.
The city ought to be trying to lessen the number of billboards, especially those that are standing on potential downtown development sites. For example, the corner of Allyn Street and Union Place across from Union Station in the heart of the downtown club district ought to have a building. Instead it has a billboard, usually advertising a sex club. People arriving by train or bus can't miss it.
If city officials could effect a trade and move this billboard someplace else, that might be defensible. Meanwhile, city officials would be wise to embrace the CRCOG shelter initiative, because their own efforts at shelter upgrading have been very slow out of the gate. Many city bus shelters have been wrecks for several years, with broken plexiglass and vandalized with graffiti. The last regular contract to maintain the bus shelters ran out in 2003.
In 2005, the city contracted with AllVision LLC of New York City to manage all forms of outdoor advertising in the city - billboards, bus shelters and such things as display boards in parking garages. The idea was that AllVision would look for revenue opportunities that would, among other things, pay for the repair or replacement of bus shelters. This apparently generated the billboards-for-shelters idea.
Let's try the regional approach. Even the bus shelter across from city hall is a mess.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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