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New London’s embrace of electronic billboards is another bad sign

I guess you never know what to expect from the leadership of a city that agrees to pay $50,400 for three streetlights powered by wind and solar for a park that doesn't open at night.

It turns out another crazy thing you get is a giant garish electronic advertising billboard, on city property, that is the new welcome sign to New London, the first thing many visitors from the southbound lanes of I-95 see when they enter the city.

It doesn't take more than a few clicks on Google to find scores of stories about communities all around the county, including our own Stonington, just one town away, creating regulations to outlaw these eyesores, which push obtrusive flashing colored advertising in your face.

I would rank it up there with spam cell phone calls as egregious consumer assault.

Not in New London, though. Here they allowed one of these money-making devices to be built on city property, as if putting the city logo and some event announcements in the mix of advertising would help compensate.

There are actually two electronic billboards now distracting drivers on Eugene O'Neill Drive. There was already one on the side of the police station.

I can't help but think it was the same salesman who talked the city into solar lights for a park that no one visits at night who convinced decision makers to turn their gateway over to a big ugly flashing billboard that someone is going to make money off of.

At least he or she must have seen how the unnecessary and expensive street lights scored big — a home run for that salesperson.

The new billboard is probably also a safety hazard, distracting drivers with changing bright-colored messages that are hard to read.

Speaking of the government management of signs, I was prompted recently to find out why all the big new signs on Interstate 95 that are supposed to announce the attractions at each exit have been blank for so long.

A spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, when I asked, assured me that there are indeed attractions around here to interest passing travelers.

The attractions are supposed to be listed on the signs by the start of summer, the spokesman said, which, if you allow that summer solstice is the start of the season, not Memorial Day, they still have a little time left to make deadline.

All of the obvious ones, from the Coast Guard Academy and Ocean Beach Park in New London will be listed. There are also some head scratchers, like Sailing Ship Argia Cruises in Mystic, that don't seem to meet DOT criteria for attractions highway signage, like being open year-round.

Foxwoods Resort Casino won't make the cut for Exit 92 attractions, while Tanger Outlets at Foxwoods will. I guess shopping is encouraged on attractions signage, not gambling.

Local town leaders were consulted in developing the highway signage, the DOT said.

In keeping with longstanding tradition, motorists will be directed past Exit 89 in Groton to Exit 90 in Stonington, if they are looking for downtown Mystic, not the shortest route, as we all know, just a politically dictated one.

But then I imagine, in the age of GPS and smartphone maps, directional signs on the highway are much less important than they ever were.

Attractions signs are probably more enlightening for idle and bored car passengers wondering what lays beyond the passing exits.

This is the opinion of David Collins.



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