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Posted on Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Federal mandate: New 'retroreflective' street signs attached to road funds may come with big price tag

By Lisa Allmendinger

Cities and villages that accept Federal Highway Administration funds for road projects now have a mandate - replace all of your current signs by 2018 with more reflective ones that will be easier for drivers to read.

The mandate is planned in stages “to increase public safety by making traffic signs easier to read during all weather conditions,” according to information about the program.


Christine Linfield, Chelsea's engineer and zoning director, explains the new sign safety mandates to the Chelsea City Council.

Lisa Allmendinger |

However, it’s a mandate that will wind up costing cities and villages thousands of dollars to replace all safety and street signs - and depending on where they are located in a municipality and their size, the prices - even for the same type sign - will vary.

And, although a total cost for Chelsea hasn’t been determined yet, there is no doubt that it will be an expensive undertaking. According to a 2008 inventory completed by Chelsea police, there are 100 stop signs alone in the city.

Brad Roberts, city utilities director, said he’s priced the new signs, and the stop signs alone are $35 each.

He said a street sign for Chelsea-Manchester Road, for example, will cost $111, while one for Commerce Park Drive would be $87. A Main Street sign was estimated at $30.

Councilman Frank Hammer said he found the new mandate “almost laughable,” especially with the tough economy.

“Should we assume (with the new signs) that people will now read S-T-O-P and do so?” he asked.

The new signs must meet minimum “retro-reflectivity requirements,” said Christine Linfield, city engineer, who was asked by the City Council to remove “all redundant and unnecessary signs” as a part of this project, which will be undertaken during multiple years to lessen the effect on the budget.

There are three key deadlines for the mandate, Linfield said. One for an assessment and maintenance plan, a second for the replacement of regulatory (safety) signs, and a third for replacement of street signs.

Chelsea met the first requirement Jan. 10 when it approved an assessment and maintenance plan, which Linfield said, must be in place by Jan. 22. As part of that plan, Roberts and Linfield divided the city into four zones. The first zone is all the signs north of the railroad tracks, the second zone encompasses those signs south of the railroad tracks, from M-52 west to Cavanaugh Lake Road, stopping at Old U.S. 12.

The third zone encompasses signs south of the railroad tracks, from M-52 east to Freer Road, while the fourth zone is south of Old U.S. 12 to I-94.

Chelsea has also chosen a “blanket” replacement method, which will be paid for over multiple budget years and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for expected sign life.

City staff plans to sample the brightness of some signs in each zone before deciding on future replacements, Linfield said. “All regulatory, warning and guide signs must be replaced by Jan. 22, 2015, then by Jan. 22, 2018, “all street names and overhead guide signs” must be changed out.

Lisa Allmendinger is a regional reporter for She can be reached at For more Chelsea stories, visit our Chelsea page.


Arno B

Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 7:08 p.m.

How come no one like Tooth Fairy Dingell talks about unintended consequences and extra submerged costs down the road? And how come hardly ever does anyone ask? The street signs in Ann Arbor are a scrambled mess and no one seems to care. In addition, has anyone asked about whether or not the new bridges being built on Stadium [a Dingell "victory"] have street sign mandates built in? I do not believe that AA has any standards for signage. The recent hubbub about crossing problems masked this situation. Our talented City Council thought that all that was needed was ordinance "tweaking" [their words - not mine!] To see what I mean, just start looking at the various inconsistent signs at pedestrain crossings - they vary all over the map. I'm surprised that there are not more accidents at crossings. The signs vary by shape, by information and symbols, as well as by color. Crossing signs with islands between lanes varies from very good to non-existent [check those on Stadium vs. those on Earhart Drive, for example]. Don't forget to note the inconsistencies in the "No Turn on Red" signs at various locations. One good example would be the excellent "No Turn on Red" signage at Huron and Washington [at the Barnes and Noble area] vs. the mostly invisible "No Turn on Red" signage at Maple and Stadium! Ironically, about 200 ft east [Stadium and Maple] the "No Turn on Red" signage is different. If there are signage standards, the current personnel obviously don't follow them. How come?

Bob Krzewinski

Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 5:55 p.m.

Gee. lets see. Your house is on fire or someone is breaking in. Don't you think clear, legible street signs might actually help the police or fire department find the street where you live?


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 7:04 p.m.

nvragain Very good rebuttal!


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 6:44 p.m.

Gee Bob, let me explain something to you, street signs are clear already. Not to mention the fact that if you are a EMT, police officer, or fireman, you should probably have a good clue how to get around those areas in which you are sworn to serve and protect. Please tell me you want the federal government making sure the numbers on your house, yes those numbers that are often much harder to see than street signs, are made in a similar reflective material? Go ask a pizza man what he has more trouble finding, the street you live on, or the house in which you live in? Better yet Bob, how about anytime you have a home invasion, you are required to sit out front and flash your porch light signifying your house is being robbed.


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 3:39 p.m.

They should sell the old ones to college students who want to hang them up in their dorm rooms.


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.

Much ado about nothing. 100 stop signs at $35 apiece is a whopping $3500. More money was wasted having meetings about this, speaking with the reporter, etc., than would be spent on the upgrade.


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 7:06 p.m.

Not to mention the manpower for replacement! Not always as simple as some might think!


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 7:05 p.m.

Read the article again please! WHERE does it say the ONLY expenditure would be for stop signs?


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

I am hoping the feds will mandate heaters for these signs as well. In winter months in a state like ours, snow plows typically blow the snow on to the road signs, making them undecipherable to a passing motorist. The reflectivity of these signs is rendered useless. Unless, that's right, we have heaters to make sure the signs are clear of snow! On another possible related note, I have noticed a lot of new road sign posts going up northwest of the city, on roads like webster church, north territorial, and whitmore lake road. These post are directly behind old posts that still have signs, and appear to be waiting for new signs to be placed. Are they waiting for new retro-reflective signage? This would be nice to know becuase the way I see things the old signs can be removed without having to put new posts in, unless rusty post are too unaesthetic. And on another note, this shouldn't really matter to ann arbor residents. Our city is on top of safety and doesnt need big brother telling us what to do. Not only do we have superior pedestrian saftey laws, we have awesome signage that is reflective on the ground for bikers, that is totally not confusing when you are driving and your lane shifts to allow for courteous bikers to share the road with you.


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 9:06 p.m.

They had better mandate guards for all those heaters.


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 2:02 p.m.

I am a little confused. The article first says that the first step, "an assessment and maintenance plan" must be done by January 22 2012, then later is says the second step, "the replacement of regulatory (safety) signs" must be done by Jan. 22, 2012. Are the first and second steps due on the same date and the community has a week to replace the signs, or is the year for replacement wrong?

Lisa Allmendinger

Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 2:53 p.m.

Good catch, AlfaElan. The correct date for installing the safety signs is 2015. Thank you for pointing this out.


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.

I wonder why their is a TEA PARTY? Unfunded mandates by the Federal Government cause a lot of problems for State and City Governments. Here is one example.


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 1:46 p.m.

While improvements in technology should be adopted, I don't see the statistics or studies that show how the reflectivity of signs have contributed to accidents. I'm sure many offending drivers claim to not have seen the sign, but will reflectivity really help? Does it auto-melt any ice/snow/dirt that may have covered the sign? Does it flash and send a text message to the driver if it auto-detects that the driver didn't see the sign? I'm sure that would help ,but somehow I doubt it. Then again - federal funds for highways should be limited to interstates, federal, or rails that interconnect the states. State, county, and municipal roads should not be federally funded. Increase my state taxes and reduce my federal please and let the state decide how to best use the money - as long as they follow basic guidelines (e.g. a stop sign is red with the word STOP :) )


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

Totally dumb. And agree with various other responding -- just another way to spend tax dollars. The signs that are currently used are just fine, it is the individuals who are not paying attention that are not so. And, they will be the same way with "retroreflective" signs.


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 1:29 p.m.

Just another government hand in the taxpayers pocket ...when you elect wolves to run the sheeple this is the natural result...people who don't work for a living spending the $$ of those who do ...


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

Note to City Council: There is no free lunch.


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 12:50 p.m.

Another example of big brother looking over our shoulder for everything. While this may a good thing in the long run. To force communities in this economic environment is short sited. Its too bad does not have &quot;reporters&quot; willing or interested enough to do some background work on any of there recycled stories! In 1992, the Congress directed the Secretary of Transportation to revise the Manual on Unifrom Traffic Control Decives to include a standard for minimum levels of retroreflectivity that must be maintained for traffic signs. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.

So how are other cities and towns complying?


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 9:03 p.m.

Probably borrowing the money from the Chinese!