By JACK ELLIOTT JR.
JACKSON — Call ‘em mixed-case signs or retroreflective signs. The U.S. government wants street and traffic signs to better reflect at night.
But localities will have to pay. And that has state, municipal and county officials seeing red over spending green.
For example, New York City began replacing 250,000 street signs in 2010. Its budget: $27.5 million.
In Mississippi, there are street signs, stop signs, speed limit signs, warning signs and many other signs designed to make the roadways safer for drivers. Add in county and municipal signs, the numbers soar into the hundreds of thousands.
Local officials say no matter how much it costs, it will be too much.
Lowndes County Engineer Bob Calvert estimates there are thousands of signs to be replaced along the 600 miles of county roads, and the county has not determined how much it will have to spend.
Oh where, oh where can help be found?
Not likely in the Legislature.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Johnson III, D-Natchez, said there’s no money from the state to help the cities and counties.
“We don’t have the money to take on new projects,” said Johnson, who also sits on the Appropriations Committee.
Johnson said the state has to deal with deteriorating bridges and roads, and signs are just another item on a list of transportation issues to be addressed. Johnson said the state needs to form a partnership with cities and counties to look money.
“We clearly understand we have to figure out with the cities and counties what to do. But there’s not just one problem,” Johnson said.
Southern District Transportation Commissioner Tom King said the Mississippi Department of Transportation signs met the minimum level guidelines put out by the Federal Highway Administration.
“My understanding is that it will not have a huge impact on us because we’ve always maintained our signs well. We’ve not had that kind of problem,” King said. “If signs need to be replaced, we’ll do so under the new guidelines.”
King said MDOT maintains signs on state and federal highways that run through the counties and cities. He said cities and counties maintain their own signs.
The FHWA regulations require signs to be replaced with modern reflective signs that are easier to see, especially at night.
The new signs also are to be written in a combination of upper- and lowercase letters to make them easier for drivers to read.
“Signs that use both upper- and lowercase letters are easier to recognize, particularly when a driver is farther away, according to research conducted before this requirement was included,” the FHWA said in a statement.
So, “This” is easier to read than “THIS.”
By January 2015, all state and local governments must replace most of their road signs with the new ones, and by January 2018, the project must be complete.
Some signs are made out of wood or cast iron. The FHWA says those materials are hard to see at night.
However, the FWHA has allowed the Philadelphia, Pa., suburb of Ardmore to keep the small green-and-gold signs that have marked its streets for almost a century. The township said replacing the cast-iron signs, which date back to 1913, would cost $1.5 million.
States that fail to comply with the federal mandate could lose 5 percent of their federal highway funds. If they remain out of compliance for a second year, that penalty doubles.
But noncompliant states could receive a grace period. As long as they submit a plan to obey the mandate, federal officials have indicated they may not start deducting money until 2014.