Prince George's County officials said this week that they did not formally oppose the federal government's proposal to convert highway signs to metric measurements, as reported June 30 in the District Weekly. John C. Rice, chief of the Prince George's traffic operations division, said he was mistaken when he told a reporter that a letter he drafted for the signature of his boss, Donald R. Dunker, director of public works and transportation, had been signed and sent. Dunker said he neither opposed metric conversion in principle nor disagreed with the staff recommendation, which opposed the highway sign plan as too costly and too soon. "The county had not really taken a position," Dunker said. "I thought the staff position got into some areas such as financing that should be made by the county executive . . . We are not opposed to the metric system, but we do have problems with the timing and the financing (of the highway agency) proposal)."
Confronted with objections from many local and state governments, the Federal Highway Administration has abandoned a plan which would have required that all highways signs used metric measurements by late 1982.
The action will probably lead other federal agencies to "stop and think" before they propose similar metric conversion plans, according to Richard Reilly, public affairs officer for the highway agency. He said the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 established metric conversion only as voluntary national policy, not binding law.
The highway agency's proposal called for converting all speed limit signs to metric measure by the end of 1979, and all othe regulatory and advisory signs by late 1982. It was killed because of objections based both on cost and safety.
While officials in Virginia and Prince George's County filed formal letters protesting the metric conversion plan for reasons of cost and safety, District officials said they were prepared change to metric signs and anticipated relatively few problems.
The conversion would have forced some changes in speed limits, highway sign formats and automobile equipment - for example, the 55 miles per hour speed limit would have become 90 kilometers per hour, which works out to about 56 1/4 miles per hour.
Also, metric speed limits on signs would have been followed by the designation "km," standing for kilometers per hour. Owners of autos more than two years old, which do not have kilometers-per-hour markings on their speedometers, would have been required to obtain a paste-over kilometer scale for the speedometer.
Paul Wolf, acting head of the signals, signs and markings division of the District department of transportation, said his division would have been prepared for the four-year transition to metric signs.
Wolf said his department would not have had to make and erect new traffic signs, but instead would have patched over existing signs to change speed limits. Similar patch jobs were done when the top speed limit in the city was changed from 60 to 55 miles per hour.
The District was apparently one of the few jurisdictions to comment formally upon the plan but not actually oppose it. Reilly said the federal agency received more than 5,000 comments, 98 per cent of them "strongly negative."
In the metropolitan area, Virginia and Prince George's County were the only jurisdictions to urge that the plan be abandoned. Other local governments did not make formal comments.
Reilly said opposition to the agency's proposal also came from several congressmen who thought the proposal went beyond voluntary conversion policy of the Metric Conversion Act of 1975.