Towns say new sign rules not a problem
Sign maker Pete Shandrick pulls a cover off of a speed limit sign he created inside his office in the Moon Public Works garage.
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Over the next few years, street signs may get a face-lift, but despite economic conditions, many community officials say they're not worried about how the updated federal regulations for traffic and street signs will affect their budgets.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has revised the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, issuing revised regulations for traffic and street signs in 2007 and 2009. The manual is administered by the Federal Highway Administration and is a compilation of national standards for all traffic control devices, including road markings, highway signs, traffic signals and street signs.
Among the required upgrades for traffic control devices are greater reflectivity in road signs and the timing on crosswalk signs. Over time, communities also are expected to replace street signs with reflective signs that spell out street names in upper and lower case letters.
The public has 45 days from Nov. 30 to comment to the Federal Register, by going to www.regulations.gov and entering docket number FHWA-2010-0159.
Some new requirements, such as the size of signs and their level of reflectivity, must be met by 2018, although that could change based on public comment to the website.
"Although there are safety advantages to many of these recommendations and requirements, we want to find a way to improve safety without piling costs onto the American people," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wrote in a recent blog post.
For that reason, municipalities have been given the flexibility to deal with the regulations on their own schedules, provided they meet the deadline.
The safety measurements are primarily intended for an aging population of drivers and for night-time driving.
"Night-time accidents, when only one-fourth of the people travel, probably are half of the fatalities, and therefore, we need to do something," said Murrysville Mayor Robert J. Brooks. "Reflective signs, I think, are about the best way."
Mr. Brooks said he anticipates the biggest costs will come from replacing the large number of stop signs and speed limit signs. Murrysville street signs are reflective, so the municipality is in good shape on that, he said.
"We don't have any problems with the new rules, regulations or deadlines because we're already well into it and I believe it's the right kind of thing to do," he said. "How can you put a price on a life?"
Although replacing signs will have an impact on Mt. Lebanon's budget, Manager Steve Feller agreed it's beneficial to make the signs more visible.
The community is planning to replace signs over time, as the current signs begin to wear, he said.
"Anytime there are additional costs with no associated revenues that are mandated by the state or federal government, we're concerned, but I think we'll plan this into our future replacement schedules," Mr. Feller said.
Some municipalities are breathing easier when it comes to cost because they manufacture their own signs.
Shaler makes its own signs, and the changes are fairly consistent with the budget already in place, said township Manager Timothy J. Rogers.
When the township repaves streets, it replaces everything, including street and traffic signs, and will continue to do so.
"They've given us more than enough time to deal with this," Mr. Rogers said. Shaler will keep the same style of signs but make them bigger. They are already reflective, he said.
Moon also makes its own street signs and has been replacing them since 2008.
"The new standards coincided with a township goal to replace signs anyway to give signs a standard look," said Meghan McNamara, communications director for Moon.
The township formerly had wooden, hand-painted street signs installed in the 1980s. But, Ms. McNamara said, they were beginning to show their age and needed maintenance.
"[The regulations] really hit at a good time for us," she said.
After the decision was made to replace the signs, the public works department proposed the plan to produce them in-house. Since 2008, employees have made the signs at the public works garage, using a press, a vinyl cutter and the computer software to design them.
"It's an efficient way to make sure we're up to ... standards and maintain the township standard look at the same time," Ms. McNamara said.
They are more than halfway done with replacements and plan to finish earlier than the 2018 deadline, she said.
Another community whose signs might be getting a new look is Upper St. Clair. George Kostelich, public works director, said a decision hasn't been made yet about what to do about the signs.
"Our current signs, which the community has fallen in love with, they have character, they have class, but the fact is, they don't meet the regular reflective standards," he said.
Right now, employees are taking inventory and creating a database of all signs. Each sign will have a bar code and be entered into a data system that will give the reflectivity level of the sign when purchased, its location, who installed it and when and what type of post it is on. This way, if the sign is stolen or damaged, all of the information is right at the public works department's fingertips, Mr. Kostelich said.
It's not going to affect the budget at least until after 2012, he said, but it will not be a huge burden because a lot of the traffic signs are already up to date and meet the minimum requirements.
In larger communities such as Hempfield and Bethel Park, officials are stretching out the project over a couple years to keep within budget.
"We knew it'd be impossible to make it a one-year project," said Hempfield Manager Kurt Ferguson, "but we'll be done in time."
Like Shaler, Hempfield is swapping out current signs for signs with high reflectivity as they repave roads, and with those guidelines, they're right on schedule. The budget isn't a problem, either.
"We've been doing those piece by piece over the last several years," Mr. Ferguson said. "We have a sizeable budget for that every year and we're very proactive for transition."
Bethel Park Mayor Clifford Morton said that unlike smaller towns, the borough needs more time to take care of all of its signs.
"We may have a lot more signs to do, but we can stretch it out over a few years," he said.
Some streets, in places such as Peters, need only larger lettering on street-name signs, but meeting the reflectivity regulations will require a longer transition, said township Manager Michael Silvestri. Like most places, part of each year's budget goes toward replacing signs and it might take a little more than usual.
"There's some additional costs, but it's not a huge item for us as I understand at this time," he said.
First Published December 30, 2010 12:00 am