Sign Safety

Is this another unfunded mandate straining the budgets of municipalities or a way to improve safety?

The Federal Highway Administration is requiring all municipalities to have a sign management program to identify and replaces signs that don’t meet the needs of nighttime drivers in place by June 13.

Stops signs, speed limit signs, caution signs, do not enter, and anything else posted by a municipality has to be checked for sign “retroreflectivity” – how well road signs reflect light back to a driver at night, which is when about half of traffic fatalities occur, the FHWA says.

The FHWA issued new requirements in 2009 to “improve safety on the nations roadways” by January 2012, but the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) lobbied for changes and the deadline was moved to June 13, 2014.

Every municipality in the state must have a plan to assess and maintain all regulatory, warning and post-mounted guide signs.

Now with a break in the weather and roads finally beginning to clear, township supervisors and road masters are beginning to take inventory of road signs in their municipalities.

Sheffield Township Supervisor John Labesky and the Sheffield Township roadmaster are planning to drive throughout the township at night to inspect every sign.

That inspection will happen after their spring road inspection.

“In the near future we will have taken an inventory of all our signs in the township as to whether they meet the standards,” Labesky said. “We’ll do an inventory, probably sometime in April.”

Replacing road signs are not cheap and it would probably be costly to replace all of them, he said.

“But most of our signs in the township are up to date,” Labesky said.

PSATS has provided five different ways to take inventory of the signs in a municipality – a visual nighttime inspection; “measuring a sign retroreflectivity using a retroreflectometer” that costs $11,000; replacing signs at the end of their expected life; replacing all of the signs; or replacing signs based on control signs.

“I would love to see that mandate disappear, but we are setting up a spreadsheet in our township as to our signs,” Glade Township Supervisor Joe Scully said. “We’re working on a inventory of the signs and what condition they are in.”

Glade Township officials would already be out inspecting the roads as part of their spring and fall road inspection, and can improve the safety of the road without a costly machine, Scully said. All three supervisors and the roadmaster inspect every road “we’re responsible for” from signs, to street lights, to trees, Scully said.

“Yes, they are expensive,” Scully said of buying new signs, “but there isn’t a sign in our township that gets knocked down that we don’t know about.”

In Youngsville Borough, Roadmaster Earl Wilcox has already started replacing stop signs and speed limit signs during the day.

“We started last year, we did a bunch of our signs,” he said.

“The MUTCD language recognizes that there may be some individual signs that do not meet the minimum retroreflectivity levels at a particular point in time. Reasons for this include vandalism, weather, or damage due to a crash. As long as the agency is using one of the methods (with appropriate procedures) to maintain their signs, they are considered to be in compliance with this Standard,” the FHWA said.