Plan Required on Reflectivity of Signs Do you have one in place?

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) sets forth federal standards with regard to all traffic control devices, including traffic signs of all descriptions, from stop signs to street name signs to overhead directional signs.

In 2008, the United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration added sections to the MUTCD regarding the reflectivity of signs. This new standard requires that agencies maintain a minimum level of “retroreflectivity” in all traffic signs. Retroreflectivity is a property of a surface that allows a large portion of the light coming from a point source to be returned directly back to a point near its origin. This property is critical to the nighttime visibility of road signs and pavement markings.

Municipalities have until January of 2012 to establish and implement a sign assessment or management plan to maintain minimum levels of sign retroreflectivity for the signs in their jurisdiction. By January 2015, compliance must be met for regulatory, warning and ground mounted signs (except street name signs). All signs that do not meet minimum standards for reflectivity must be replaced. By January 2018, overhead guidesigns and street name signs must also comply.

The new regulations do not necessarily require that all signs be replaced, but that all signs must have certain levels of retroreflectivity maintained, which means assessment and monitoring of all signs. This may result in the replacement of signs that do not meet the minimum standards for retroreflectivity. The new sections of the MUTCD allow municipalities flexibility with regard to methods for compliance, offering five assessment or management methods, or any combination of the five, as well other appropriate methods if they are supported by engineering studies. Those include: visual nighttime inspection, measurement of retroreflectivity with a retroreflectometer, tracking expected sign life, blanket replacement and control signs.

It is also important to note that an agency can be in compliance with the new sign reflectivity MUTCD standards even if some individual signs do not meet minimum reflectivity standards so long as assessment or management methods as noted above are being used in the jurisdiction.

Compliance could be very expensive for local municipalities: the cost per sign is estimated to be $75.00. At this time, no federal money is available to help local agencies to replace signs that must be replaced under the new regulations.

Work closely with your solicitor and engineer to understand how the MUTCD sign reflectivity standards will impact your municipality and to be sure that your plan is in place by January of 2012.