ELIZABETHTOWN - New federal regulations regarding road signage will equate to an expense of nearly $1.9 million for taxpayers in Essex County, according to the county's top highway official.
Essex County Department of Public Works Superintendent Tony Lavigne met with the county's DPW committee at its April 19 meeting, and expressed his concern regarding regulations enacted in December by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
"We are currently in the process of changing all the county signs to meet the new federal standard," said Lavigne.
The regulations require the replacement of signs which have outlived their shelf-life for reflectivity. Lavigne said the county is working to replace an estimated 12,000 such signs on county and town roads in Essex County through the next four years, which will equate to a $1.2 million pricetag for municipalities.
In addition, recent changes to the regulations stipulate that rectangular signs with either a chevron or a large directional arrow are "recommended" to be used on curves where the advisory speed is 10 mph less than the speed limit and "required" where the difference is 15 mph or more.
To conform with the changes, Lavigne said 2,750 new signs will have to be placed at roughly 1,100 county road curves that previously had none, at a cost of $274,250. He estimated 3,750 new signs on town roads with a cost of $401,250, for a total of $695,500.
And that's just the up-front cost. According to Lavigne, the DPW will be responsible for maintenance of the signs, which will mean the potential for added cost in future years.
Lavigne said the changes in regulations will likely have little effect on traffic safety and are particularly burdensome to states in the Northeast where roads tend to have plenty of curves.
"Most of the roads in the Northeast were established before the advent of automobiles and therefore don't meet most engineering standards," he said.
Failing to replace the signs could put the municipalities at risk for lawsuits, Lavigne said, as counties and towns can be held liable for an accident if the signs are not in compliance with federal and state regulations.
Jay Supervisor and Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas called the new regulations "another unfunded mandate that we can't afford in Essex County."
"Our hands are tied," he added. "If we don't comply, we could end up paying more in a lawsuit than we would for the signs themselves."
Westport Supervisor Dan Connell moved for a resolution to request an exemption from the regulations, which was passed unanimously by the committee.
Newcomb Supervisor George Canon likened the issue to a recent dispute arising from a FHWA initiative to bring the yellow-on-brown Adirondack signs into compliance with a white-on-brown standard used in other parks. Many local organizations and agencies opposed the change.
"We fought them and were able to retain our brown and yellow," Canon said.
Lavigne said he has been talking to highway superitendents in other nearby counties and towns, and hopes to spur widespread opposition to the new regulations.
"I do think it's going to get more vocal in the next few weeks as the word gets out," he said.