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Reasons for Updating Traffic Signs

December 16, 2019

Traffic signs are a permanent fixture of culture, yet must still be maintained and replaced from time to time. Sometimes new signs are needed to replace old signs that have faded or become damaged. Other times new signs are needed to meet government compliance. Here are scenarios to consider to help keep sign replacement under control.

Lifespan of Traffic Signs

Ideally, traffic signs should last for at least a decade. Fortunately, many new signs of the past decade are expected to last much longer than in the past. A study by MDOT, Minnesota’s transportation agency, found that the typical service life of a sign is 10 to 20 years, which is longer than most warranties. The study further found that weather did not play a significant role in degradation of sign reflectivity. However, it did find that sign color can fade faster than degradation of reflectivity.

Meeting New Regulations

The small town of Round Rock, Texas, recently decided to replace 7,000 street signs to meet federal government compliance. The city had to pay about a quarter million dollars to replace the signs so that they complied with retroreflectivity levels set by the Federal Highway Administration’s MUTCD manual on standards for traffic control devices.

Out of the six options the MUTCD gives for meeting retroreflectivity requirements, Round Rock chose that in which annual retroreflectivity scans are not required and sign replacement can be done every 7 to 10 years. Since 2014, the FHA has mandated that retroreflectivity levels must be at or above minimum levels listed in the MUTCD. It’s important for signs to be retroreflective at night to reduce traffic accidents.

Overcoming Vandalism

When vandalism occurs to traffic signs, it’s important for local officials to take action right away to restore or replace such signs. Leaving vandalized signs in place simply sends out a negative message to the community that vandalism is tolerated. It’s particularly important for schools to clean up graffiti as soon as possible so that it doesn’t encourage more defacing of signs.

Many times vandals use spray paint on signs to add words or letters that make a mockery of the sign. Vandalism can be reduced by using special coating on aluminum that makes removing spray paint easy. It’s important that the protective layer does not strip away graphics when cleaned.

Standardizing Signs

Some local jurisdictions decide to install new signs simply to create a more uniform look. The town of Berryville, VA, for example, determined in 2019 that several signs were mismatched in terms of lettering size and background color and did not meet federal regulations. The town is going through development of new subdivisions and its officials have decided it’s time to make signs more consistent.

One of the issues that arose was that not all stop signs used the same shade of red or were the same height. Local officials also have considered standardizing alumium thickness and how far signs should be posted from curbs.


Road signs should be inspected periodically to make sure they meet federal, state and local standards for visibility and readability. Contact Zumar at our Arizona, California or Washington location to learn more about the longevity of traffic signs.

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