Public outrage growing over street sign mandate


by David Alan


Posted on December 6, 2010 at 7:24 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 17 at 2:15 PM

NORFOLK -  When it comes to street signs, the Federal Highway Administration's take is that bigger and brighter is better.  It's why cities from Chesapeake to Chicago and Norfolk to New York will need to put up new street signs and stop signs federal bureaucrats say are easier to read.

 "This is just one more reason why people feel Washington has lost touch with reality," John Moss of the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance told us.

And it's that sentiment that now has Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood backing away from the controversial mandates, saying, "I believe that this regulation makes no sense."

LaHood wants to re-open the public comment period on when the new rules take effect; rules that were proposed under the Bush administration and went into effect after President Obama took office.  "There have got to be better ways to improve safety without piling costs onto the American people," the secretary added.

Our investigation found meeting the deadlines set by the mandates will pile costs on Hampton Roads taxpayers, for sure.  Norfolk has some 90,000 signs and has hired a contractor for $45,000 just to get the work started.

Chesapeake has more than 30,000 signs.  They told us it will take an estimated a million dollars just to make its stop signs and other warning signs bigger with bigger lettering by 2013.

The City of Virginia Beach says the cost of replacing just its yellow private street signs will be $90,000.

"I think our government has a lot more things to put money into right now than that," one concerned taxpayer told us.

Our investigation found plenty of confusion surrounding the mandates. The Federal Highway Administration told us part of trying to make roads safer is making sure street signs are uniform.

Yet, in Elizabeth City, street signs are a real mixed bag.  There are black signs and green signs. There also are 400 street signs made out of wooden poles. City officials told us there are no immediate plans to change these signs.

"Probably not within the core of the city because our speed limits are exempt under the new guidelines," City Manager Rich Olsen told us.

But the Federal Highway Administration told us there are no exemptions here.

"Speed limit doesn’t have anything to do with reflectivity."

Also part of the mandate is the fact all street signs at some point in the future will have to be in upper and lower case.

The transportation secretary may have an opinion about the federal mandate on street signs, but Ray LaHood does not have the authority to repeal the rules.