San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Public infrastructure

Costa Rica's Supreme Court powers down 3 electronic billboards along heavily transited roads

Three recent rulings issued by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, or Sala IV, prompted the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) to turn off the lights on three electronic billboards along major roadways in the Costa Rican capital.

MOPT last week told the National Power and Light Company to power down the billboards due to “visual pollution,” a phrase used in the Sala IV rulings. However, the ministry cannot order the billboards to be removed because they are located on private property.

The LED screens belong to Interamericana Medios de Comunicación (IMC) and are located near Plaza del Sol Mall in Curridabat, east of San José, next to La Sabana Park, in western San José, and across the street from the National Museum in downtown San José.

IMC representatives argued that MOPT had granted permission for them to install the billboards beginning in 2010, and that the company had been clear from the start that they were electronic devices. IMC said they may sue to turn the billboards back on, according to IMC legal adviser Jonathan Picado.

In its rulings, the Sala IV evaluated reports by the University of Costa Rica’s National Structural Materials and Models Laboratory (LANAMME) that backed citizen complaints, according to Vinicio Barboza, head of MOPT’s Inspection and Demolition Department. Sala IV justices also noted that the country has no regulations governing these types of advertising devices, and until that happens, permits should not be granted for their use.

The report submitted by LANAMME Director Alejandro Navas states that the billboards’ “extreme brightness and luminosity levels are evident and could be a distraction for driver visibility.”

“This office recommends, for the safety of motorists, a ban on these types of screens until technical criteria can be used to justify their approval or rejection,” the report added.

The Sala IV’s decision, however, does not affect similar electronic screens used by the Roadway Safety Council to report accidents, traffic jams and other information along several highways, as justices considered these devices provide a public service to motorists.

Barboza also said his department currently is conducting inspections of other electronic billboards, including those located near the Juan Santamaría International Airport in Alajuela, and others near the toll booth in Escazú, southwest of the capital.

Contact L. Arias at

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Ken Morris

The Sala IV’s lack of judicial restraint regularly annoys me, and rarely fails to especially annoy me when it sets itself up as an authortity on traffic engineering. I gather that because the judges themselves drive, they assume that they know all there is to know about it. Not true. There is actually a wealth of research and experience to draw upon–Epicatt2 mentions some pertaining to this issue–but it never seems to be considered by the court. Unfortunately, MOPT often seems oblivious too. I’m not taking a stand on these kinds of billboards, only saying that the judicial reasoning is a crock, as usual.

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I am aware of a similar situation to what is described above in this article that occurred in central Florida several years back along the corridor where I-4 approaches Orlando/Disney from the west. An ordinance ilmiting the refresh rate of ads on LED type signs that cycled quickly thru a number of ads, or which contained flashing logos or art was put into effect. (And a similar ordinance was put in place in Tampa and St. Petersburg,)

The signs were permitted to stay and to display the various ads, but the frequency of change was reduced to between once every 45 seconds up to once a minute. This was to ensure that the passing motorists/drivers were not being distracted from watching the roadway and surrounding traffic by trying to keep up with the frequently changing ad images on the LED bilboards.

Thus with a one-minute refresh span most of the passing vehicles would be presented with only a single ad, or with possibly that one and with a second ad, if the image happened to be changing while a vehicle was passing the sign. This noticeably reduced distractions caused by the signage to drivers watching it VS them watching road and traffic conditions as they should have been doing.

It’s doubtful that any of those officials in Sala IV or MOPT will see this post or will become aware of the LED signage refresh restrictions that Florida put in place, but a similar resctiction on such signage in San José, etc., might go a long way to resolving these complaints/problems and/or satisfying parties on both sides of the issue.

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