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Why Replace Highway Signs When Roads Need To Be Fixed?

Posted at 6:52 PM, Nov 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-12 21:14:26-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The smallest signs on West Michigan’s expressways tell you what highway you’re on, such as US-131 or I-96. The biggest signs point the way to upcoming exits and destinations.

They’re all being replaced by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Some FOX 17 viewers have noticed that what appear to be perfectly good highway signs are being taken down and replaced by signs that say the same thing. There is method to MDOT’s apparent madness.

First, the new signs are easier to see at night. The reflectivity of the new signs is greatly improved, which is critical for older drivers. Drivers over 65 need eight times the light to see highway signs compared to younger drivers, says Nick Schirripa of MDOT’s Southwest Region. New, more visible signs increase safety.

Second, signs have a limited life span. It’s pretty long, but they don’t last forever. A typical highway sign is expected to last about 20 years. With highway funding unchanged over the years and costs going up every year, MDOT has been letting signs stay up several years longer to stretch dollars. But they have to be replaced eventually. And if a bunch of signs along a stretch of highway need to be switched out, it’s more efficient to replace them all, says John Richard of MDOT’s Grand Region.

Highway signs are designed to be “breakaway,” so when a vehicle hits them, they give way. Those posts need to be replaced, especially if they have rotted underground.

And third, because they said so. “They” being federal highway standards, which now say a new font called Clearview must be used on highway signs the federal government helps pay for. All states must meet federal standards to get federal highway funds.

The new font is also just easier to read, especially at night. The old font tended to get “blobby” on certain letters when reflecting lights from vehicles, says Richard. The Clearview font is designed not to do that.

So, even though highway signs appear to just sit there, they are an answer to some safety issues, much the same as replacing, maintaining, or upgrading the pavement can be a safety issue.

Drivers may not even notice when a sign is replaced, and that’s okay by MDOT. The signs will do the job, and the money is well spent. And much of that money to replace the signs is being provided by federal funds assigned to pay for the new signs anyway.