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(a) The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) may approve a State's request to exempt certain nonconforming signs, displays, and devices (hereinafter called signs) within a defined area from being acquired under the provisions of 23 U.S.C. 131 upon a showing that removal would work a substantial economic hardship throughout that area. A defined area is an area with clearly established geographical boundaries defined by the State which the State can evaluate as an economic entity. Neither the States nor FHWA shall rely on individual claims of economic hardship. Exempted signs must:
(1) Have been lawfully erected prior to May 5, 1976, and must continue to be lawfully maintained.
(2) Continue to provide the directional information to goods and services offered at the same enterprise in the defined area in the interest of the traveling public that was provided on May 5, 1976. Repair and maintenance of these signs shall conform with the State's approved maintenance standards as required by subpart G of this part.
(b) To obtain the exemption permitted by 23 U.S.C. 131(o), the State shall establish:
(1) Its requirements for the directional content of signs to qualify the signs as directional signs to goods and services in the defined area.
(2) A method of economic analysis clearly showing that the removal of signs would work a substantial economic hardship throughout the defined area.
(c) In support of its request for exemption, the State shall submit to the FHWA:
(1) Its requirements and method (see §750.503(b)).
(2) The limits of the defined area(s) requested for exemption, a listing of signs to be exempted, their location, and the name of the enterprise advertised on May 5, 1976.
(3) The application of the requirements and method to the defined areas, demonstrating that the signs provide directional information to goods and services of interest to the traveling public in the defined area, and that removal would work a substantial economic hardship in the defined area(s).
(4) A statement that signs in the defined area(s) not meeting the exemption requirements will be removed in accordance with State law.
(5) A statement that the defined area will be reviewed and evaluated at least every three (3) years to determine if an exemption is still warranted.
(d) The FHWA, upon receipt of a State's request for exemption, shall prior to approval:
(1) Review the State's requirements and methods for compliance with the provisions of 23 U.S.C. 131 and this subpart.
(2) Review the State's request and the proposed exempted area for compliance with State requirements and methods.
(e) Nothing herein shall prohibit the State from acquiring signs in the defined area at the request of the sign owner.
(f) Nothing herein shall prohibit the State from imposing or maintaining stricter requirements.