‘Common Sense’ Prompts U.S. to Scrap Traffic-Sign Deadlines

Tuesday, 30 Aug 2011 06:49 AM

Most requirements for U.S. local governments to replace stop signs and other traffic markers by specific dates will be scrapped after hundreds of cash-strapped municipalities complained, the Transportation Department said.

The Federal Highway Administration will now allow states to replace the signs when they wear out, it said in a press release today. Forty-six deadlines, including timetables for minimum reflectivity and larger lettering, will be eliminated.

The changes may affect companies like 3M Co., based in St. Paul, Minnesota, which has a unit devoted to traffic safety items like reflective sheeting and tape.

“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 in a statement. “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 highway administration posted a notice about the rule changes in the Federal Register today.

The administration, part of LaHood’s department, proposed the changes in 2009. In a November 2010 notice seeking comments, it called the deadlines “a reasonable balance of the safety benefits afforded by uniformity of traffic control devices and the economic costs to agencies to achieve compliance.”

States and cities are struggling with diminished tax collections and the end of additional money from President Barack Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus bill.

Over the past four years, states have been forced to use spending cuts and tax increases to eliminate budget gaps of more than $500 billion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Census data show that property taxes, which flow largely to localities, dropped during the past two quarters.

“States, cities and towns should not be required to spend money that they don’t have to replace perfectly good street signs,” Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush, the mayor of Calumet City, Illinois, wrote in comments to the highway administration in January.

The department has not estimated how much the rules would cost all municipalities. Milwaukee, in comments to the department, estimated it would cost the city $3.4 million to meet the deadlines.

The changes were determined by a government-wide review initiated in January by Obama to change or remove rules that were unnecessary, out-of-date, excessively burdensome or too costly, according to the highway administration.

Other deadlines to be eliminated include increasing the size of warning signs including ‘Pass With Care,’ ‘One Way’, Low Clearance’ and ‘Advance Grade Crossing.’

Twelve deadlines would remain in effect for “sign upgrades that are critical to public safety,” according to the Transportation Department. Those include installing ‘One Way’ signs at intersections with divided highways or one-way streets, and requiring ‘Stop’ and ‘Yield’ signs be added at railroad crossings without train-activated gates or flashing lights.

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