LaHood Says Communities Can Upgrade Signs At Their Own Pace

August 30, 2011
Moose warning sign

Moose warning sign

Ever wondered why road signs are made the way they are? How the government manages to ensure that they're consistent? Most of the standards for directional signs, traffic lights, and other roadway signage are set out in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which is the Federal Highway Administration's answer to sleeping pills.

The Manual (or MUTCD) lays out specifics to ensure consistency: which fonts are acceptable for road signs, which colors can be used, what size signs should be, and so on. Normally, the MUTCD is pretty uncontroversial, but the 2009 upgrade has been causing quite an uproar.

Published in December 2009, the revised MUTCD not only set out new standards for road signs -- particularly their size and degree of reflectivity -- but also established a timetable for upgrading existing signage to meet the new standards. For example, signs that were too small were set to be replaced by December 22, 2013. Signs that weren't reflective enough were to be upgraded by January 22, 2015. 

No one would argue that making road signs safer is a bad idea, however, signage can be very, very expensive. In Delaware, for example, regulators estimate that the required upgrades would run around $60 million. In Minnesota -- a significantly larger state -- the cost could go as high as $75 million. In cash-strapped communities, that kind of dough is hard to find these days.

And so, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has decided to do the sensible thing and allow cities and states to upgrade most signs as they wear out, without the burden of an artificial deadline. Said LaHood, "A specific deadline for replacing street signs makes no sense and would have cost communities across America millions of dollars in unnecessary expenses."

That said, there are a few non-negotiables. Certain requirements for signs marking one-way traffic, left-hand exits, as well as high-visibility apparel for road workers and crossing guards, will stay on schedule. Of the 58 requirements and timetables, though, only seven haven't been amended or stricken entirely.

If you'd like to look through the full list of regulations yourself -- or if you're a complete insomniac -- you can find the entire list of updates here


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