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Editorial: Night lights

One simple pleasure in life is being able to see the night sky.

Think about those clear nights where you look up and are bedazzled by the twinkling stars and planets. Perhaps you’re one of those folks who can identify the various formations or maybe your identification begins and ends with finding the Big Dipper and the North Star.

Either way, you appreciate the sky for all its beauty.

But the beauty of the night sky isn’t always available just for the looking. In plenty of places around the country, especially around urban areas, the stars are dimmed by outdoor lighting. While this isn’t too much of an issue for rural Franklin County, there are places where such lighting is a hindrance to seeing and enjoying what the night sky has to offer.

The issue, best called light pollution, is definitely a problem. Consider that according to the National Park Service, lights from a city can dampen what one sees in the night sky some 200 miles away.

This brings us to what the state Department of Transportation’s Office of Outdoor Advertising has been working on lately: bringing 18 digital billboards online.

Last year, the state signed a contract with Clear Channel Communications that would allow the erection of these electronic signs around the commonwealth. Their locations, all in Boston, were supposed to be approved last month, but according to news reports, the matter was removed from an agency meeting agenda.

Part of the reason, according to a Boston Globe story, is that local officials, including the mayors of Boston and Somerville, argue they’re being left out of the conversation. And former governor Michael Dukakis has added his voice to the opposition, telling the Globe, “For the life of me, I don’t understand why we need these in the commonwealth.

“The T is hell-bent on becoming the state’s primary visual polluter.”

We have to say that we take a dim view of these signs. Even if under state regulations, such sign can’t be animated, they can be a distraction to drivers and simply add to light pollution that is invasive. And while we know that such billboards will generate money for the state, does the money make up for the light pollution and energy waste?

Probably not.

Maybe electronic billboards are a sign of the times, but we’d like that an agency like the Department of Transportation would ask itself a couple of questions: Is it really necessary and what can the state do to lower the amount of light pollution?

Answer those questions and we might change our thinking that electronic billboards aren’t such a bright idea for Massachusetts.

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