Jackson Sun: Editorial: Respect taxpayers by replacing highway signs when they wear out

Posted on June 21, 2011

Do local governments in Tennessee have an extra $50 million? We don't think so, and neither do U.S. senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee. That is why they introduced legislation in Washington to stop an unfunded federal mandate to arbitrarily replace road signs to make them easier to read.

The Federal Highway Administration wants to update rules that dictate minimum nighttime visibility of road signs. We have no argument against making road signs easier to read. That likely will help make roads safer. The problem with the proposed federal mandate is that the Federal Highway Administration wants someone else to pay for the upgrades. The cost of meeting the proposed guidelines would fall to states and local communities. According to Tennessee highway officials, it is estimated that it would cost $50 million in our state.

Alexander and Corker want the new rules implemented in a more sensible and affordable way. The proposed rules would require state local government to come up with a sign replacement policy by January 2012. The rules require traffic safety signs such as stop and yield signs to be replaced by 2015 and all signs would have to be replaced by 2018.

The legislation authored by Alexander and Corker would allow the signs to be replaced under the new standards when they reach the end of their useful lives. That makes a lot more sense that throwing away thousands of otherwise good and adequate signs to meet the arbitrary 2015 and 2018 dates.

Given the state of the economy and its fragile recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression, we are pretty sure not many states have extra money lying around to replace highway signs that don't need replacing. We know for a fact that Tennessee doesn't have such funds.

Everyone can appreciate the need for safer highways. Signs that are easer to read at night make sense. But the logic of the proposed rules must be balanced against state and community ability to pay for the improvements. State and local governments are under enormous financial strain and citizens and lawmakers are demanding good stewardship of tax dollars. It makes no sense to call for eliminating government waste while demanding state and local governments throw way good highway signs before they have reached the end of their useful lives.

Proposals such as the one from the Federal Highway Administration are what are wrong with government. Better highway signs are a good idea. An even better idea is to replace existing signs in a manner that respects hardworking taxpayers by not being wasteful. Good for Alexander and Corker for bringing this common sense legislation to the table.