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Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-07-042
Date: April 2007

Maintaining Traffic Sign Retroreflectivity: Impacts on State and Local Agencies

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Preface

This report addresses the impacts of the implementation of proposed changes to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) that would set minimum levels of retroreflectivity for in-place traffic signs. The proposed change seeks to improve the night visibility of traffic signs by requiring agencies to replace signs that fall below a minimum level of retroreflectivity. The need to replace signs that do not satisfy the minimum levels will have impacts on State and local agencies. The degree of impact will be influenced by the specific values of the minimum levels as well as by the current state of an agency's sign system. The impacts will be further influenced by the methods used to assess and maintain an agency's sign system. 1

An important test of the practicality or viability of the proposed changes can be found in an analysis of the impacts they will have on State and local agencies. These agencies have the day-to-day responsibility to design, place, and maintain the traffic signs in the U.S. While State and local agency personnel recognize the critical importance of their role to maintain the retroreflectivity of traffic signs on the roads in their jurisdictions, the resources available for this role are limited. This report takes a broad view of impacts, as reflected in the concerns expressed by agency personnel, and studies the extent of impact associated with those concerns.

This report assumes that rulemaking efforts will lead to minimum maintained levels of traffic sign retroreflectivity and that State and local agencies will be primarily responsible for bringing their sign systems into compliance, if they are not already doing so.

Assessing the impacts is difficult for many reasons. First, while it is possible to isolate the important cost elements associated with signs, differences in agency accounting practices and prices make it difficult to establish average costs. Second, it is difficult to identify the scope of direct and indirect impacts. Third, it must be recognized that specific information on the numbers and condition of in-place signs is limited, making it difficult to generate definite overall cost impacts. Last, it must be recognized that there is a measure of uncertainty and variability in the costs and performance (e.g., service life), making it hard for any agency to know the specific degree of impact they will face.

Recognizing the difficulties described above, it is still important to analyze and quantify the expected impacts on public agencies. Therefore, this report takes the best information available on the subject and develops an estimate of those impacts.

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