County reflects on road signs becoming dollar signs

Federal requirement for new, more reflective road signs could cost Marion County hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We have 600 stops signs alone,” road and bridges supervisor Jesse Hamm told county commissioners Monday. “It would cost $97,000 just to replace them in one year.”

Every sign — even reflectors along curves and bridges — on every one of the 1,600 miles of county roads will have to be inspected, according to revisions in the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

And that doesn’t include stop signs and stop-ahead signs on county roads leading to state highways. Those are maintained by state crews.

A $10,000 piece of equipment can test each sign, or the county can employ a complicated subjective testing procedure involving a sport-utility vehicle and an inspector age 60 or older being driven around at night.

When commissioners joked that this would be a job for fellow commissioner Dan Holub, Holub responded: “It’s going to take three people — me, a driver, and someone with a gun on me to make sure I don’t wander off.”

Commissioners were hesitant to invest in the equipment, called a reflectometer.

As Holub put it, “we can assume we have to replace 99 percent of the signs in the county.”

Commissioner Randy Dallke said the cost could be $300,000 just for informational street signs listing road names.

“Is there a regulation saying you must have a road named and have a sign on it with that name?” he asked, knowing that the answer was “no.”

If signs are present but do not meet standards, the county could be open to legal liability in the event of an accident.

But Dallke noted: “We could spend our whole budget on signs, and one could be knocked down accidentally, and we’d still be responsible.”

Most road signs are estimated to have a 10-to-12-year service life, Hamm said, but reflectivity can wear out more quickly, especially if a sign faces the sun — to which Holub joked that the county should consider installing only north-facing signs.

Commissioners indicated they would consider making stop and yield signs first priority, then regulatory and other warning signs before replacing street and guide signs.

Dallke further suggested starting with blacktop roads then moving to gravel and finally dirt roads.

Under Federal Highway Administration rules adopted in 2007, local agencies were supposed to have established and implemented sign assessment and management strategies by January 2012.

According to the agency’s website, regulatory, warning, and ground-mounted guide signs must meet the new standards by January 2015, and overhead guide signs and state name signs must meet the standards by January 2018.

However, Hamm and road and bridge superintendent Randy Crawford told commissioners that not all signs must be in compliance by those times, only that a plan must be in place to systematically address them.

A handout they provided listed this past May as the deadline for implementing such a system.

The commissioners took no action but did note that many signs purchased since 2007 may already meet the standards.

130th and Nighthawk Rds.

Commissioners also learned that the Kansas High Risk Rural Roads program had selected for funding a project to make more gentle the “correction jog” at 130th and Nighthawk Rds.

The $385,000 project will require an estimated $85,000 in county spending for design, right of way, and utility relocation plus 10 percent of actual construction and engineering costs.

Construction is likely to begin in spring 2016.

On other transportation matters, they approved a $24,162.55 low bid for fuel from Cooperative Grain and Supply. Cardie Oil bid $167.45 more.

They also voted to administer overlooked pre-employment drug tests to part-time summer employees in roads and bridges even though some will be ending their work as early as Aug. 1.

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