Cruising down Interstate 280, you can understand why it’s known as the world’s most beautiful freeway.
“The green pasture side and trees in the background – it’s iconic,” said Bryan Porcher, who drives on the corridor three days per week.
But now, there is a bit of scare on the Peninsula, as drivers wonder if San Mateo County is really considering putting up electronic billboards on the pristine stretch of freeway.
I-280 is a State Scenic Highway, a designation that limits development and advertising.
“I think they’re very distracting to drivers and we really need to be paying attention to the highways,” said Lennie Roberts, with the Committee for Green Foothills.
The legislative advocate says she “was shocked, frankly” when she found out about the billboard proposal “buried” in a report from the County Manager to the Board of Supervisors, and she immediately wrote a letter.
San Mateo County says ad revenue could bring in millions of dollars, but chief communications officer Michelle Durand says it’s “impossible” to put billboards on I-280. County leaders are looking at many potential sites in a feasibility study.
“The County of San Mateo is not considering putting billboards on 280. All that’s being done right now is info gathering on the possibility of having billboards in an area on 101 in Daly City,” Durand said.
In a statement, the County Manager’s Office wrote: “The County of San Mateo is considering a feasibility study of potential sites for electronic billboards. We are only looking at areas where billboards currently exist near Highway 101. Interstate 280 is designated as a scenic corridor which makes it impossible to place billboards there. Even so, Interstate 280 is one of the most beautiful transportation corridors and we would never do anything to change that. The Board of Supervisors must still approve the contract for such a study and, if one or more sites are deemed feasible, make all decisions regarding any potential project.”
Supervisor Carole Groom told NBC Bay Area she is interesting in exploring signs on Hwy 101 – “only.”
Still, it’s little comfort to Roberts, who says, “I always wait until I see something in writing.”
Some drivers we spoke to at the Crystal Springs Safety rest stop preferred not to give their names. They say, “It’s just another highway.”
Others say it’ll ruin the scenic drive.
“I think it’d be terrible. You might as well go to Las Vegas. I don’t approve of that at all,” said Brook Nielsen, who uses 280 to drive from Santa Cruz to Petaluma monthly.
And some are conflicted.
“I’m torn because that might compromise my serene drive. However, if it was useful content that might be served directly towards me in terms of digital signage, over old school advertising, I would be open to seeing what that looks like,” Porcher said.
The feasibility study is expected to take about six months to complete. The proposal is expected to go to the Board of Supervisors in late April at the earliest.