Feds will scrap costly deadline to switch signs

August 30, 2011 http://detnews.com/article/20110830/METRO05/108300372

Feds will scrap costly deadline to switch signs

Communities will be allowed to upgrade as they wear out

/ Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The Obama administration is scrapping a rule that required hundreds of thousands of street signs to be replaced by 2018 — and instead will allow communities to upgrade them as they wear out.

The Federal Highway Administration is proposing Tuesday to eliminate 46 deadlines for bigger or better road signs.

“A specific deadline for replacing street signs makes no sense and would have cost communities across America millions of dollars in unnecessary expenses,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

Many cities — including many in Michigan — and states had urged the government to abandon the rules.

Minnesota warned the new rules could cost the state $55 million to $76 million, while Delaware said it would cost at least $60 million.

The rules hit big and little cities.

New York City said the regulations require the replacement of more than 300,000 signs. That would take 12 to 16 years to complete — past U.S. deadlines. The existing rules require some new signs by 2015 and others by 2018.

Houston County, Tenn., budgets just $3,500 annually for signs — and is still struggling after a massive May 2010 flood. It told LaHood it is “simply impossible” to replace its signs.

The National Association of County Engineers said the costs could be huge.

“Unless it is modified … governments will face significant costs, perhaps in the billions of dollars,” the group said in January.

The city of Walker on the west side of Michigan said the cost of complying would be upwards of $900,000 over six years — or 1 percent of the city’s budget in each year — while Battle Creek asked for at least two more years to comply. Kent County sought until at least 2036 to comply.

The government is proposing to eliminate deadlines requiring that many street name signs be replaced by 2018 to meet minimum retroreflectivity standards and requiring larger lettering on those street name signs.

The proposal would also eliminate deadlines for increasing the size of various traffic signs, like “Pass With Care” and “One Way” as well as warning signs like “Low Clearance” and “Advance Grade Crossing.”

The rules will still require new signs — but communities will be able to replace and upgrade these signs when they wear out.

The government is keeping 12 deadlines deemed critical to public safety.

These include installing “One Way” signs at intersections with divided highways or one-way streets and requiring “Stop” or “Yield” signs to be added at all railroad crossings without train-activated automatic gates or flashing lights.

Scott Assenmacher, an engineer with the Monroe County Road Commission, said the rules cost too much.

“With these requirements in place, roads in Monroe County, Michigan will have… (the) brightest, shiniest, most readable and visible signs out there that read, ‘Bridge Out’ and ‘Road Closed,'” he wrote LaHood.

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