April 14, 2012


Federal rules require new street signs

City, county complying with FHWA mandate designed to improve visibility at night

Staff Reporter

A few hundred city street signs will need to be replaced in the next six years in response to federal highway regulations designed to help drivers see the signs at night.
Passed in 2009, the new regulations from the Federal Highway Administration, or FHWA, require public agencies to look at their signs and determine if they meet higher standards for “retroreflectivity,” a term that describes how well materials redirect light back at its source.
Retroreflective materials make signs easier for drivers to see at night, according to the FHWA.
Mack Cook, the city’s director of administration and finance, said officials have been evaluating the signs in all eight wards and compiling a list of the ones that will need to be replaced.
He estimated the city will need to replace a few hundred street, stop, speed limit and other signs.
Cook said the city is also preparing a request for proposals from private companies to replace and maintain street name signs.
The proposals will give the city a clearer idea about the total cost to come in compliance with the new regulations.
Cook said the new federal regulations amount to an unfunded mandate, though the city will pursue grants that could cover up to 80 percent of the cost.
Cook said the regulations place a burden on local municipalities but noted they address an important public safety issue.
About 42,000 people have been killed on American roads during the last decade, according to the FHWA.
Only one quarter of all travel occurs at night, but half of the traffic fatalities occur during nighttime hours, according to the FHWA.
While other factors like intoxication and fatigue contribute to the disparity, the FHWA says darkness “reduces the visual cues available to the driver.”
The federal mandate is also designed to help keep drivers safe as they age.
The city will need to meet the minimum requirements for regulatory, warning and ground-mounted signs by 2015. Overhead guide and street name signs will need to be in compliance by 2018.
Over the last four years, the county Highway Department has set aside money annually to come into compliance with the new regulations and has updated about 2,000 of 2,700 regulatory and warning signs, said county Highway Superintendent Don Chambers.
Chambers said his department has been spending between $10,000 and $12,000 a year on the material for the new signs.
He expects the county will meet the deadlines for the mandate, but wishes the federal government had given municipalities more time to come into compliance.
He said replacing aging signs is an important task for highway departments.
“The signs should be changed to protect safety, anyway,” Chambers said.
Jim Yaman, owner of Yaman Real Estate, said in a letter to the city he believes updating the signs is a good idea.
He said the new signs would improve the city and hopefully influence industries to move to Cortland.


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