Billboard Vegetation Removal/Trimming Permits

The Highway Advertising Act (HAA), MCL 252.301, et seq., tasks MDOT with regulating the trimming, removal, or relocation of trees, shrubs, or other plant material within a highway right-of-way for the purpose of making a proposed or existing sign more visible.   In addition to civil enforcement mechanisms, the HAA makes it a misdemeanor to trim or remove vegetation within a highway right-of-way for the purpose of making a proposed or existing sign more visible without an MDOT-issued permit.  MCL 252.311.

Individuals, business entities, organizations, and local governmental agencies must apply to MDOT for a Billboard Vegetation Management (BVM) Permit, before any vegetation management is conducted within a highway right-of-way.  In addition to the application fee, an applicant for a BVM Permit must pay the permit fee and the value of the vegetation approved for management as well as comply with all MDOT conditions and requirements.  However, if an applicant seeks a BVM permit to manage only vegetation that was managed under a previous BVM Permit and has since regrown, the applicant does not need to pay either the permit fee or the value of vegetation managed.  To obtain a BVM Permit to manage regrowth, an applicant must apply to manage ONLY vegetation that has regrown since being originally trimmed or removed under a previous BVM Permit that was issued within the last five (5) years (see MCL 252.311a(4)).    

Applications for a BVM Permit are accepted online through MDOT’s Construction Permit System (CPS), which can be accessed through the MDOT Permit Gateway (MPG).  Access to MPG requires a MILogin account.  Detailed instructions for creating an account can be found at www.michigan.gov/mdotmpg.  Once inside MILogin, select “MDOT Permit Gateway (MPG),” then select the appropriate business entity and “Right-of-Way Construction Permit System” from the dropdown lists.  In CPS, BVM Permits are Labeled “Billboard Vegetation Removal/Trimming Individual” Permits. 

Note:  For a permit to erect and/or maintain a sign or sign structure see the Highway Advertising (Billboard) Permits Page.  

Application Process

A separate BVM Permit must be obtained for each billboard viewing zone in which vegetation management will be conducted.  (See MCL 252.311a(18)(a) for a definition of the billboard viewing zone and the Billboard Vegetation Management Guide.)  Each BVM Permit application requires that a survey of the viewing zone be completed and the results submitted with the application.  Therefore, applying for a BVM Permit is a three-step process.  An applicant must:

  1. Obtain a Billboard Survey Permit to survey the billboard’s viewing zone;
  2. Conduct a survey of the billboard’s viewing zone to mark the proposed Vegetation Removal Area (VRA), flag the vegetation proposed for removal or trimming, and create the necessary documentation for the BVM Permit application; and
  3. Apply for an BVM Permit.

Billboard Survey Permits

A Billboard Survey Permit allows survey work only.  No additional work, including vegetation management, is allowed under a Billboard Survey Permit.  An applicant must apply for a Billboard Survey Permit online through CPS.  An applicant may apply for an Individual Billboard Survey Permit for each viewing zone in which vegetation management will be conducted, an Annual Billboard Survey Permit for an area that covers each viewing zone, or a combination of the two. 

An application for an Individual Billboard Survey Permit to survey a viewing zone must include:  

  • A copy of the relevant billboard permit,
  • A copy of the ISA Arborist Certification of the arborist who will conduct the survey, and
  • Proof of landowner permission (if the land on which the vegetation management will take place is not owned by MDOT). 

An application for an Annual Billboard Survey Permit does not require a copy of the billboard permit(s), Arborist Certification, or proof of landowner permission because those items must be submitted as part of the Advance Notice (see below).

Conducting the Survey

An applicant must conduct a separate survey of each viewing zone in which vegetation management will be conducted.  Before conducting a survey, an applicant must submit an Advance Notice through CPS at least five (5) days prior to the commencement of the work AND receive approval of the Advance Notice from MDOT.  A separate Advance Notice and approval is required for each survey of a viewing zone.  Therefore, while one Advance Notice is submitted for an Individual Billboard Survey Permit, many Advance Notices will likely be submitted for an Annual Billboard Survey Permit. 

The Advance Notice for an Individual Billboard Survey Permit must include a site plan.  The Advance Notice for an Annual Billboard Survey Permit must include, for each viewing zone in which vegetation management will be conducted:

  • A site plan,
  • A copy of the relevant billboard permit,
  • A copy of the ISA Arborist Certification of the arborist who will conduct the survey, and
  • Proof of landowner permission (if the land on which the vegetation management will take place is not owned by MDOT).  

A site plan for an Advance Notice must consist of a full-color, photographic, aerial map of the highway and viewing zone, marked with the following items:

  1. The billboard’s location.
  2. The billboard’s permit number.
  3. The limits of the billboard’s viewing zone.
  4. The highway’s name.
  5. The highway’s pavement edge.
  6. The highway’s right-of-way boundary.
  7. The highway’s type of right-of-way.
  8. The highway’s speed limit.
  9. A correctly orientated compass rose or north arrow.

Survey Tasks

Each survey of each viewing zone must accomplish the following tasks:

  1. Mark on the highway shoulder the limits of the proposed VRA and, if different, the limits of the area providing five (5) seconds of billboard visibility based on the posted speed limit (see MCL 252.311a(6) and table below).  These marks must be annotated with the letters “VRA” and “5-SEC” respectively and must not exceed two (2) square feet in size.  Markings may only be placed on the paved shoulder.  Do not place markings anywhere else, such as barrier walls, light posts, bridge structures, etc.  Do not place markings over other pavement markings.  See Billboard Vegetation Management Guide.
 Posted speed limit (mph):  Distance traveled during 5 seconds of travel (feet):
 30  220
 35  257
 40  293
 45  330
 50  367
 55  403
 60  440
 65  477
 70  513

 75

 550

 

  1. Flag all trees proposed for removal or trimming that are one and a half (1½) inches in diameter or greater.  Flag all shrubs proposed for removal or trimming that are ten (10) square feet in area or greater.  Shrubs include individual shrubs, shrub clumps, and clumps of trees in which each individual tree is less than one and a half (1½) inches in diameter.

If the survey is being conducted for a BVM Permit to manage regrowth, flag ONLY vegetation that has regrown since being originally trimmed or removed under a previous BVM Permit that was issued within the last five (5) years (see MCL 252.311a(4)).

A tree’s diameter must be measured at the trunk using the following standards:

  • A tree’s trunk diameter is measured approximately four and a half (4½) feet above ground level, known as “diameter at breast height” or “DBH,” if possible.
  • If it is not possible to measure a tree’s trunk diameter at DBH, or if the measurement taken at DBH is less than six (6) inches, then the tree’s trunk diameter is measured by caliber six (6) inches above ground level. 
  • Diameters of ten (10) inches or less must be measured to the nearest half (1/2) inch.
  • Diameters greater than ten (10) inches must be measured to the nearest inch.

Vegetation must be flagged in the following manner:

  • Flag all trees and shrubs proposed for removal with red plastic survey tape.
  • Flag all trees and shrubs proposed for trimming with blue plastic survey tape. 
  • Each tree and shrub must be flagged conspicuously and identified with a unique number (flag number) clearly written on the survey tape.
  1. Create a list of all trees and shrubs flagged for removal or trimming. The list must contain each plant’s type (tree or shrub), species, size (diameter or area), and flag number. The list must be sorted first by flag number, second by VRA distance, third by species, fourth by size, and fifth by type.
  2. Create digital, high-resolution, color photographs of the billboard and VRA.  To simulate the billboard’s visibility to the traveling public, the photographer must take the first photograph from the limit of the VRA furthest from the billboard, and another photograph every second of travel at the posted speed limit as the photographer moves towards the billboard (see table below).  Photographs should be taken facing the billboard and as close to the main-traveled way as possible (see MCL 252.302(t)).  The photographer must take a final photograph perpendicular to the billboard face and with the billboard’s permit number completely legible.  Photographs must be taken after the shoulder is marked and all vegetation is flagged.  The photographs should be stored in the JPEG (.JPG) file format with an individual file size under 3 megabytes (3 MB).
Posted speed limit (mph): Distance traveled during 1 seconds of travel (feet):
 30  44
 35  51
 40  59
 45  66
 50  73
 55  81
 60  88
 65  95
 70  103

 75

 110

 

  1. Create a full-color, photographic, aerial map of the highway and viewing zone, marked with the following items:
    1. The billboard’s location.
    2. The billboard’s permit number.
    3. The limits of the proposed VRA.
    4. The limits of the area providing five (5) seconds of billboard visibility based on the posted speed limit, if different than the proposed VRA.
    5. A representation of each plant flagged for removal or trimming, identified with the plant’s flag number and placed on the map in the same relative location as the plant’s actual location in the viewing zone.
    6. The highway’s name.
    7. The highway’s pavement edge.
    8. The highway’s right-of-way boundary.
    9. The highway’s type of right-of-way.
    10. The highway’s speed limit.
    11. The location where each survey photograph was taken.
    12. The location where the site will be accessed to perform the vegetation management.
    13. A correctly orientated compass rose or north arrow.

Note:  All documents must be marked with the relevant billboard’s permit number.  MDOT may require an applicant to submit supplemental documentation, remark the site, or reflag the vegetation.

Note:  Survey results are valid for one year from the date of the survey Completion Notice.

Survey Completion

Once the survey is complete, the applicant must submit notification of the completion to the permit agent within seven (7) calendar days.  For a survey completed under an Individual Billboard Survey Permit, the applicant must submit a Completion Notice through CPS.  For a survey completed under an Annual Billboard Survey Permit, the applicant must send a Completion Notice by email to the permit staff identified on the Approved Advance Notice.  A failure to submit a timely Completion Notice may prevent an applicant from obtaining an BVM Permit.   

BVM Permits

A separate BVM Permit is required for each viewing zone in which vegetation management is to be conducted.  An applicant may apply for an BVM Permit only after the necessary viewing zone survey is completed.  An applicant must apply for an BVM Permit online through CPS.  A BVM Permit application must contain the following:

  1. A copy of the relevant billboard permit.
  2. The date of the Completion Notice for the Billboard Survey. The BVM Permit application must be submitted within 1 year of the Complete Notice.
  3. If the application is for a BVM Permit to manage regrowth, a copy of the previous BVM Permit and its corresponding Final Inspection Report.
  4. If the proposed vegetation management will occur in an easement or dedicated right-of-way, a notarized letter signed by the landowner granting the applicant permission to perform the vegetation management.
  5. The list of all trees and shrubs flagged for removal or trimming that was created during the viewing zone survey.
  6. The digital, high-resolution, color photographs of the billboard and VRA taken during the viewing zone survey.
  7. The full-color, photographic, aerial map of the highway and viewing zone created during the viewing zone survey.
  8. The names of the company and individuals who conducted the viewing zone survey.
  9. The name of the entity who will conduct the vegetation management.
  10. A list of proposed alternatives and mitigation the applicant is willing to perform should MDOT determine either to be necessary or a statement that the applicant is not proposing alternatives and/or mitigation (see MCL 252.311a(3), (8)).  All proposed alternatives and mitigation must be developed by specialists qualified in the fields addressed by the plans, e.g., landscape architecture, soil erosion, etc.  Proposed mitigation must meet or exceed the function of the plant material that will be removed.
  11. A list of all anticipated future vegetation management necessary to maintain five (5) seconds of billboard visibility based on the posted speed limit (see MCL 252.311a(3)).

BVM Application Decision

Typically, MDOT will notify an applicant of its decision within ninety (90) days of receiving a complete BVM Permit application.  MDOT may take one of the following actions:  approve the application, approve the application with limitations and/or modifications, or deny the application. 

Upon receiving notice of MDOT’s decision to approve an application (with or without limitations and/or modifications), the applicant has thirty (30) days to submit the following items:

  1. Payment of the $500.00 BVM Permit fee.
  2. Payment of any additional review or inspection fees, if determined necessary by MDOT.
  3. Payment of the value of the vegetation approved for removal or trimming as determined by MDOT.
  4. A $5,000 electronic individual performance bond for the work to be completed under the BVM Permit.  If the applicant wishes to use one bond to cover many BVM Permits, the applicant may submit a $50,000 electronic blanket performance bond instead.
  5. An electronic certificate of insurance for the work to be completed under the BVM Permit.
  6. If MDOT approved the application with limitations and/or modifications, the applicant must submit the following items incorporating the limitations and/or modifications, if applicable:
    1. Revised lists of the trees and shrubs to be removed or trimmed.
    2. A revised full-color, photographic, aerial map.
    3. A list of all required mitigation with any applicable conditions.
    4. A list of all additional required conditions.

A failure to submit the required items within thirty (30) days of receiving notice of MDOT’s decision will result in the cancellation of the application’s approval.  An applicant may pay a $150.00 fee to extend this deadline an additional 30 days.

Review and Reconsideration

Upon receiving notice of MDOT’s decision to deny an application or approve an application with limitations and/or modifications, the applicant has forty-five (45) days to request review and reconsideration of the decision.  The applicant must submit the request for review and reconsideration in writing to the permit staff and state the specific item or items for which review and reconsideration are being requested.  An applicant who received a limited permit may manage vegetation in accordance with that permit during the review and reconsideration period. 

Conducting the Vegetation Management

Before conducting vegetation management under an BVM Permit, an applicant must submit an Advance Notice through CPS at least five (5) days prior to the commencement of the work and receive approval of the Advance Notice from MDOT.  A separate Advance Notice and approval is required for each BVM Permit.

All vegetation management and mitigation (if applicable) must be complete no later than ninety (90) calendar days after the issuance of the BVM Permit, unless an extension is allowed by the permit.  A failure to complete the vegetation management within the time limit specified by the permit will result in the permit’s expiration or revocation.  An applicant may, one time only, pay a $150.00 fee to extend the permit’s time limit an additional 30 days.  After a permit has expired or been revoked, an applicant must submit a new application if the applicant still wants to conduct the vegetation management.

All vegetation management and mitigation must be performed under the direct supervision of an ISA-certified arborist.

Vegetation Management Completion

After the vegetation management and mitigation (if applicable) is completed, the applicant must submit a Completion Notice through CPS within seven (7) calendar days so that MDOT may conduct a final inspection and issue a Final Inspection Report.  A failure to obtain a Final Inspection Report will prevent an applicant from applying for and obtaining a BVM Permit to manage regrowth. 

The applicant must submit new digital, high-resolution, color photographs of the billboard and VRA showing the vegetation management and mitigation (if applicable) that was performed.  To simulate the billboard’s visibility to the traveling public, the photographer must take the first photograph from the limit of the VRA furthest from the billboard, and another photograph every second of travel at the posted speed limit as the photographer moves towards the billboard (see table above).  Photographs should be taken facing the billboard and as close to the main-traveled way as possible.  The photographer must take a final photograph perpendicular to the billboard face and with the billboard’s permit number completely legible.  The applicant must also submit digital, high-resolution, color photographs of any mitigation conducted under the BVM Permit that was performed at a location other than the billboard’s VRA.  The photographs should be stored in the JPEG (.JPG) file format with an individual file size under 3 megabytes (3 MB). 

MDOT permits these types of facilities or operations in a manner which does not significantly compromise the integrity of state highway right of way systems, while simultaneously providing assurance to the general traveling public for the safest transportation environment possible.

Questions?
Contact your local Transportation Service Center (TSC).