Chapter 8: Control of OAS along Interstate or Primary Highways

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Section 1: Sign Standards

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Overview

The following standards apply to signs controlled by the State. To be eligible for a permit, new signs must conform to the following standards. Existing signs that are legally in place, but do not meet the standards, are classified as legal nonconforming signs.

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Establishing Commercial and Industrial Areas

All signs except official or directional signs must be located in either:

  • an area zoned for commercial or industrial use; or
  • an unzoned commercial or industrial area.
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Zoned Commercial or Industrial Areas

A zoned commercial or industrial area is an area designated, through a comprehensive zoning action, for general commercial or industrial use by a political subdivision with legal authority to zone.

The following areas are not zoned areas:

  • areas that permit limited commercial or industrial activities incident to other primary land use;
  • areas designated for and created primarily to permit outdoor advertising structures along a regulated highway;
  • unrestricted areas; and
  • small parcels or narrow strips of land that cannot be put to ordinary commercial or industrial use and are designated for a use classified different from and less restrictive than that of the surrounding area.

Industrial Districts are not recognized as industrial zones.

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Unzoned Commercial and Industrial Areas

An unzoned commercial or industrial area is an:

  • area along the highway ROW that has not been zoned under authority of law;
  • which is not predominantly used for residential purposes; and
  • which is within 800 feet, measured along the edge of the ROW, of, and on the same side of the highway as, the principal part of at least two adjacent recognized commercial or industrial activities.
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Proximity to Right of Way

A portion of the regularly used buildings, parking lots, storage and processing areas, where each respective business activity is conducted, must be within 200 feet of the highway ROW, and the permanent building where the activity is conducted must be visible from the main-traveled way.

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Two Separate and Adjacent Activities

To be considered adjacent, there must be no separation of the regularly used buildings, parking lots, storage or processing areas of the two activities by vacant lots, undeveloped areas over 50 feet wide, roads, or streets. Two activities may occupy one building as long as each has 300 square feet of floor space dedicated to that activity and otherwise meets the definition of a commercial or industrial activity. There must be separation of the two activities by a dividing wall, separate ownership, or other distinctive characteristics. A separate product line offered by one business will not be considered two activities.

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Measurements

An unzoned commercial or industrial area is more specifically identified as follows:

  • The area to be considered, based upon the qualifying activities, is 1,600 feet (800 feet on each side) plus the actual or projected frontage of the commercial or industrial activities, measured along the highway ROW by a depth of 660 feet.
  • The area shall be located on the same side of the highway as the principal part of the qualifying activities.
  • The depth of an unzoned commercial or industrial area is measured from the nearest edge of the highway ROW perpendicular to the centerline of the main-traveled way of the highway. See graphic below:

     Example of an Unzoned Commercial Area (click in image to see full-size image) Anchor: #i999416grtop

    Figure 8-1. Example of an Unzoned Commercial Area

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Test for Residential

The area must be considered as a whole prior to the application of the test for predominantly residential.

An area will be considered to be predominantly residential if more than 50% of the area is being used for residential purposes. Roads and streets with residential property on both sides shall be considered as being used for residential purposes. Other roads and streets will be considered nonresidential.

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Commercial or Industrial Activities

Commercial or industrial activities are those activities customarily permitted only in zoned commercial or industrial areas, except that none of the following shall be considered commercial or industrial activities:

  • outdoor advertising structures;
  • agricultural, forestry, ranching, grazing, farming and related activities, including, but not limited to, temporary wayside fresh produce stands;
  • activities not:
    • housed in a permanent building or structure;
    • having an indoor restroom, telephone, running water, functioning electrical connections, and adequate heating;
    • having permanent flooring other than material such as dirt, gravel, or sand;
  • activities not housed in a permanent building that is visible from the traffic lanes of the main-traveled way;
  • activities conducted in a building primarily used as a residence;
  • railroad ROW;
  • activities that do not have a portion of the regularly used buildings, parking lots, storage or processing areas within 200 feet from the edge of the ROW;
  • activities conducted only seasonally;
  • activities conducted in a building having less than 300 square feet of floor space devoted to the activities;
  • activities that do not have at least one person who is at the activity site, performing work, an average of at least 30 hours per week or at least five days per week;
  • activities which have not been open at least 90 days;
  • recreational facilities such as campgrounds, golf courses, tennis courts, wild animal parks, and zoos, except for the portion of the activities occupied by permanent buildings which otherwise meet the criteria in this subsection, and parking lots;
  • apartment houses and residential condominiums;
  • areas used by public or private preschools, secondary schools, colleges and universities for education or recreation (this does not preclude trade schools or corporate training campuses);
  • quarries or borrow pits, except for any portion of the activities occupied by permanent buildings which otherwise meet the criteria in this subsection, and parking lots; and
  • cemeteries, or churches, synagogues, mosques, or other places primarily used for worship.
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Effect of Cessation of Activities

When a commercial or industrial activity ceases, causing an off-premise sign to no longer be located within 800 feet of at least two adjacent recognized commercial or industrial activities located on the same side of the highway as the sign, such sign shall become nonconforming.

If TxDOT has evidence that an activity supporting an unzoned commercial or industrial area was created primarily or exclusively to qualify an area as an unzoned commercial or industrial area, and that no business has been conducted at the activity site within one year, TxDOT may cancel the permit.

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Spacing

No sign may be located in a manner that creates a safety hazard, including:

  • causing a driver to be unduly distracted in any way;
  • obscuring or otherwise interfering with the effectiveness of an official traffic sign, signal or device; or
  • obstructing or interfering with the driver's view of approaching, merging or intersecting traffic.

Signs may not be located within 1,500 feet of a public park that is adjacent to a regulated highway. This prohibition shall apply:

  • on either side of the highway on a non-freeway primary system; and
  • on the side of the highway adjacent to the public park on an interstate or freeway primary system.

The following spacing limitations apply to signs that will be erected outside incorporated municipalities along a freeway or interstate regulated highway. Signs may not be erected:

  • in areas adjacent to or within 1,000 feet of interchanges, intersections at grade, or rest areas; or
  • in areas adjacent to or within 1,000 feet of ramps or their acceleration and deceleration lanes. (Such distances shall be measured along the highway from the nearest point of beginning or ending of pavement widening at the exit from, or entrance to, the main-traveled way). See graphics below.

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    Examples of Spacing Limitations (click in image to see full-size image) Anchor: #i999434grtop

    Figure 8-2. Examples of Spacing Limitations

Signs may not be erected closer than 1,500 feet apart on the same side of a regulated highway.

Signs erected outside of incorporated municipalities along the non-freeway primary system may not be closer than 750 feet apart on the same side of the highway.

Signs erected in incorporated municipalities along the non-freeway primary system may not be closer than 300 feet apart on the same side of the highway.

The spacing between signs shall not apply to signs separated by buildings, natural surroundings, or other obstructions, which cause only one sign located within the specified spacing to be visible at any one time.

No sign, other than an exempt sign, may be erected within five feet of any highway ROW line. This distance shall be measured from any part of the sign face nearest the ROW.

The spacing rules in this section do not apply to on-premise, directional or other official signs, nor shall measurements be made from these signs.

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Size

An off-premise sign face may not exceed 672 square feet, with a maximum sign face height of 25 feet and a maximum sign face length of 60 feet, inclusive of border and trim, but excluding the sign structure. Temporary protrusions also known as cutouts, may not exceed 20% of the area indicated on the sign permit. Temporary protrusions may be added to an off-premise sign, provided that no off-premise sign to which one or more temporary protrusion or cutouts have been added shall have an area greater than 807 square feet, with a maximum sign face height of 25 feet and a maximum sign face length of 60 feet, inclusive of temporary protrusions or cutouts, border, and trim, but excluding the sign structure.

The maximum size limitations shall apply to each side of the sign structure or structures visible to approaching traffic on the main-traveled way of the regulated highway.

The area shall be measured by the smallest square, rectangle, triangle, circle or combination thereof which will encompass the entire sign face.

Sign faces may be placed back-to-back, side-by-side, stacked, or in V-type construction with no more than two faces presented in each direction. The sign structure or structures shall be considered one sign. Two sign faces facing one direction may be presented as one face by covering both faces and the area between the faces with an advertisement, as long as the size limitations for a single face set forth above are not exceeded.

Signs, which exceed 336 square feet in area, including cutouts, may not be stacked or placed side-by-side.

A sign face may be permanently enlarged by 10% of the size shown on the permit without a new permit, if the enlargement does not cause the face to exceed the maximum size limitations set forth above. If a sign is built with a smaller face than the size shown on the permit, or if the face is reduced in size after it is built, a new permit will be required to increase the size of the face beyond the allowed 10%.

A new permit will not issued for a nonconforming sign.

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Overall Height

A sign may not be erected that exceeds an overall height of 42 1/2 feet, measured from the highest point of the sign to the grade level of the centerline of the main-traveled way closest to the sign, at a point perpendicular to the sign location.

A roof sign having a solid sign face surface may not at any point exceed 24 feet above the roof level.

Open sign faces on roof signs in which the uniform open area between individual letter or shapes is not less than 40% of the total gross area of the sign face may be erected to a height of 40 feet above the roof level. The lowest point of a projecting roof or wall sign must be at least 14 feet above grade.

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Lighting and Movement of Signs

Lighting. Signs may be illuminated except for signs that contain, include, or are illuminated by:

  • any flashing, intermittent, or moving light or lights, including any type of screen using animated or scrolling displays, such as an LED (light emitting diode) screen or any other type of video display, even if the message is stationary, except those giving only public service information such as time, date, temperature or weather;
  • lights that are not effectively shielded so as to prevent beams or rays of light from being directed at any portion of the traveled way of a regulated highway; and
  • lights of such intensity or brilliance as to cause glare or vision impairment to the driver of any motor vehicle, or which otherwise interfere with any driver's operation of a motor vehicle; and
  • lights that interfere with the effectiveness of, or obscure an official traffic sign, device, or signal.

Reflective Materials. Reflective paint and reflective disks may be used on a sign face unless they are determined by TxDOT to create the illusion of flashing or moving lights; or cause an undue distraction to the traveling public.

Neon. Non-flashing neon lights may be used on sign faces, unless the sign permit specifies an unilluminated sign structure; or the lights are determined by TxDOT to cause an undue distraction to the traveling public.

Electronic Signs. The department has determined that the use of an electronic image on a digital display device is not the use of a flashing, intermittent, or moving light for the purposes of any rule, regulation, and standard promulgated by the department or any agreement between the department and the Secretary of Transportation of the United States.

State rules effective June 1, 2008 allow the erection of LED and Rotating Slat Signs with the following prohibitions that the signs shall not;

  • be illuminated by flashing, intermittent, or moving lights;
  • contain or display animated, moving video, or scrolling advertising;
  • consist of a static image projected upon a stationary object; or
  • be a mobile sign located on a truck or trailer.

Such signs may only be located, relocated, or upgraded along a regulated highway within the corporate limits of a municipality or within the extraterritorial jurisdiction of a municipality that pursuant to state law has extended its municipal regulation to include that area and is allowed by the municipality's sign or zoning ordinance.

Electronic signs may not be relocated so that any part of the relocated sign would be within 1,500 feet of another off-premise electronic sign on the same side of a regulated highway.

Non-conforming signs cannot be upgraded to or used to illuminate non-conforming signs. However, a legally conforming sign may be modified to an electronic sign if a new permit for the electronic sign is obtained from both the municipality and the department. Lighting shall not be added to or used to illuminate a sign if prohibited by the municipality's sign or zoning ordinance.

Electronic signs may be located on either side of the highway; however, each sign must only be visible from one direction of travel. Each message on an electronic sign shall be displayed for at least eight seconds and a change of message shall be accomplished within two seconds. A change of message must occur simultaneously on the entire sign face.

An electronic sign must contain a default mechanism that freezes the sign in one position if a malfunction occurs; and automatically adjust the intensity of its display according to natural ambient light conditions.

The owner of an electronic sign shall coordinate with local authorities to display, when appropriate, emergency information important to the traveling public, such as Amber Alerts or alerts concerning terrorist attacks or natural disasters. Emergency information messages shall remain in the advertising rotation according to the protocols of the agency that issues the information. The sign owner shall provide to the department contact information for a person who is available to be contacted at any time and who is able to turn off the electronic sign promptly after a malfunction occurs.

If the department finds that an electronic sign causes glare or otherwise impairs the vision of the driver of a motor vehicle or otherwise interferes with the operation of a motor vehicle, the owner of the sign, within 12 hours of a request by the department, shall reduce the intensity of the sign to a level acceptable to the department.

The department will grant a permit for an electronic sign if the application for the permit satisfies the requirements of 43 TAC, Subchapter I and has attached to it; (1) a certified copy of the permit issued by the municipality that gives permission for the electronic sign; or (2) if the municipality does not issue permits, a certified copy of written permission for the electronic sign from the municipality.

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Wind Load Pressure

Permit applications for new signs and permit renewals must include a certification signed by the applicant that the proposed or existing sign will withstand wind load pressures in pounds per square foot as set out in the table below.

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Height, in feet above ground, as measured above the average level of the ground adjacent to the structure

Pressure, pounds per square foot

0 – 5

0

6 – 30

20

31 – 50

25

51 – 99

35

100 – 199

45

200 – 299

50

300 – 399

55

400 – 500

60

501-800

70

Over 800

77



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