State and local street departments have been preparing to comply with federal regulations that were approved in 2007 and 2009 that set new standards for nighttime visibility of pavement markings and street signs. But, officials on several levels of government, including U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, have expressed concern that the new rules will place unnecessary financial stress on many already struggling communities.

The new federal traffic control regulations, ranging from road sign reflectivity to crosswalk timing, are found in The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which is administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). On Nov. 29, LaHood called for additional public input on compliance dates, some of which were set for this month and the latest are Dec. 31, 2019, saying that the cost for local and state governments to comply with the new regulations would be high. “Given the difficult economic conditions states currently face, asking for additional input on compliance dates is the right thing to do,” LaHood said.

The new public comment period was set to end Jan. 14, and FHWA spokesman Doug Hecox says the agency would not be able to comment on what action it might take until it reviews the new comments. Hecox also says some officials have previously expressed concern about meeting the deadlines, but others said they would be able to meet them.

Des Moines, Iowa, Traffic Engineer Gary Fox is still trying to get a full picture of how the regulations will affect the city. “Certainly we've got some [signs] that I know are old and wouldn't meet those retro-reflectivity standards, so we'll have to upgrade them,” Fox says.

Even though he sees the need for the new standards, Fox says most cities, particularly older ones, will be concerned about the costs. “It's a great idea, but we think it's going to have some significant implications on costs to get all of our signs up to that standard,” he says.

Rewriting the rule book

MUTCD is a compilation of national standards for all traffic control devices, including road markings, highway signs and traffic signals. The revisions to the MUTCD would “establish a uniform minimum level of nighttime pavement marking performance based on the visibility needs of nighttime drivers,” according to the FHWA proposal. The revisions are intended to promote safety, enhance traffic operations, and facilitate drivers' comfort.

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