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New federal sign law creates frenzy

July 27, 2011

he reaction from Damascus Township officials reflects what’s happening in towns nationwide over federal regulations setting new standards for reflective signs along streets and roads. Like a lot of federal and even state mandates, they are largely unfunded.

“How on earth are we going to pay for it?” was the typical reaction of officials and residents in attendance at the monthly township board meeting in which new regulations from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) were discussed.
The new regulations require municipalities to upgrade their street-name signs and stop signs so that they meet certain standards, like adequately shining at night.

Three deadlines were set by FHWA for compliance with sign reflectivity requirements: By January 22, 2012, townships must have established and implemented an assessment or management program to ensure that their signs meet the minimum standards. By January 22, 2015, all regulatory, warning or post-mounted guide signs must meet the minimum levels. By January 22, 2018, all street name signs and overhead guide signs must meet the minimum levels.

“In Damascus, it would cost us around $150,000 for new street signs and $45,000 for stop signs,” said Dolores Card, township treasurer. “And that doesn’t include the labor costs.” One directive requires a municipality to conduct an inventory of all signs and street/road signs.

“We simply couldn’t afford it,” said Jeff Dexter, chairman of the township board.

“Not every township needs to do an inventory,” said Steve Rozycke, a transportation operation project manager working with Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors. If your township replaces signs on a regular schedule, it probably doesn’t need to create an inventory, he said. “However, if a township replaces signs just as needed, based on their expected life, it probably should do an inventory, rather than just replace signs piecemeal,” he said.

FHWA offers some respite under certain circumstances. While the regulations say that signs must now use a mix of capital letters and small ones rather than all caps, but there is no compliance date for those signs.

“We understand that there is some limited funding that townships can request,” Card said. “We are immediately starting to write proposals to get some of that money.”

“This comes at the most inopportune time with funding cuts threatening us,” Dexter said.