A federal mandate that would have made street signs across the nation easier to read, but at considerable taxpayer expense, was relaxed Tuesday as the White House sought to reduce the regulatory burden on cash-strapped city and state governments.
The mandate would have required larger lettering and high-quality nighttime reflection on all street signs by 2018.
Although the order came from Washington, the burden of paying for hundreds of thousands of new signs — at costs ranging from $30 to $110 — would have fallen to state and local governments. Fairfax County estimated that it would cost $1.75 million, New York City pegged it a $27.6 million, and officials in small towns felt particularly burdened by the expense.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation dropped the deadline, saying instead that bigger, brighter street signs should be installed whenever current signs need to be replaced.
“A specific deadline for replacing street signs makes no sense and would have cost communities across America millions of dollars in unnecessary expenses,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “After speaking with local and state officials across the country, we are proposing to eliminate these burdensome regulations. It’s just plain common sense.”
The original mandate was churned out by George W. Bush administration regulators in 2003 as part of a routine update of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, an 816-page guide for traffic signs, signals and the like that seeks to set common standards nationwide.
Regulators gave local governments 15 years to bring their street signs into compliance.
Although state and local officials were vocal in being upset by the street sign requirement, it came under renewed scrutiny this year after President Obama had asked federal agencies to reevaluate potentially costly mandates already on the books.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which first published the manual in 1971, on Tuesday issued a Notice of Proposed Amendments to eliminate 46 of the deadlines in the manual.
“Local and state transportation agencies are best equipped to determine when they need to replace signs and other items in the course of their daily work,” FHWA Administrator Victor M. Mendez said. “We are proposing these changes to give them the flexibility they need to balance their many responsibilities and make the best use of taxpayer dollars.”
In addition to street signs, the FHWA proposal would eliminate deadlines for increasing the size of traffic signs, such as “Pass With Care” and “One Way,” as well as warning signs, such as “Low Clearance” and “Advance Grade Crossing.”
But a dozen other deadlines in the 2003 manual were retained, including installing one-way signs at intersections with divided highways and requiring that “stop” or “yield” signs be added at all railroad crossings that don’t have train-activated automatic gates or flashing lights.