Washington Tackles Street Sign Crisis

Apparently flush from having solved the many economic and national security problems facing the country, the federal government has set its sights on resolving a major national issue that has festered far too long — requiring local governments to replace the lettering on street signs so they appear in all capital letters only.  The reasoning behind this vital project appears to be a conclusion by Washington that the country’s population is either too old or too illiterate to decipher street signs printed in upper and lower case letters.  Or perhaps its genesis lies in an important national security directive that terrorists will find it more difficult to locate targets if the nation’s street signs are thus altered.

Of course, as usual this new mandate is unfunded, leaving cash-strapped local governments to pay for the new signs, which cost in the range of $30 to $100 a piece. While that many not seem like a lot of money, it will cost millions for larger cities to comply with the new regulations. Even smaller towns will have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace a few thousand street signs.

Facing budget shortfalls and an unprecedented pension crisis, Atlanta and other cities across the country will be faced with the prospects of raising taxes or relying on layoffs of employees or some combination along with spending cuts.

The problem is here does not end with another unfunded mandate. It is the fact that there is not authority granted in Article I, Section 8 – or anywhere else — of the Constitution to intercede in the affairs of local governments in this manner. The Tenth Amendment is there for a reason; but then again, because the Amendment was not written in all upper case letters, perhaps its meaning is lost on the federal bureaucrats who have issued this directive.

Maybe we should start printing copies of the Constitution and The Federalist Papers in all capital letters to help bureaucrats understand the role of the federal government and the Law of the Land .  .  .  or maybe a coloring book would be more appropriate.


There was an honest error in yesterday’s post about street signs. The mandate being sent down from Washington is not to make the signs in all capital letters, but to a combination of capital and lower case.

The underlying point that this mandate is going to cost local governments hundreds of thousands of dollars and the constitutionality of these sorts of hoops remains the same. However, a mistake was made and a correction is warranted.

42 comments Add your comment


October 27th, 2010
5:31 am

I think it’s the other way around. They are now required to get rid of the ALL CAPS signs and use proper punctuation. Correct me if I’m wrong…


October 27th, 2010
6:53 am

I agree, Jason. Visually, all cap lettering is more difficulty to read. But the bigger issue, as Mr. Barr, is why the Fed thinks it should force this on local gov. Don’t we have enough to do already?


October 27th, 2010
6:58 am

Jason is right Bob. The law requires that all signs be change from all caps to a combination of capital and lower case letters. The signs also have to changed because there are new standards on nighttime reflectivity of signs. The part that bothers me is they have basically said they are doing this solely to make signs easier to read for babyboomers. “As drivers get older, we want to make sure they’re able to read the signs. Research shows that older drivers are better able to read signs when they’re written in both capital and small letters. It’s really driven by safety.” – Victor Mendez Federal Highway Safety Adminstration

A. J. C . Smith

October 27th, 2010
7:53 am

Our feds at work; isn’t it a time for one of their many breaks??


October 27th, 2010
8:30 am

With the savings realized from Obamacare, the coffers in local governments will soon be flowing over and you all will be thanking us for this new sign program. The people voted for change…so we will change some signs. Go forth people and prosper. B


October 27th, 2010
8:53 am

The Government is doing this for the same reason they keep increasing the Daylight Savings time. Some very questionable research showed Daylight Savings Time might save energy. Politicians jumped on this and increased the time this is in effect. Now, if anyone questions them about what they are doing about our energy crisis, they say they have increased Daylight Savings Time. In others words, do nothing but irritate the public and call it doing something.


October 27th, 2010
8:56 am

I’m old enough to be classified as a “Senior Citizen” and am able to read the existing road signs without any problems.


October 27th, 2010
9:03 am

I’d love to see the local governments simply ignore this “vital” directive. Gotta start somewhere, maybe with this insignificant order.


October 27th, 2010
9:27 am

There is a sign on the horizon that everyone should be able to read. The sign says that government as we know it needs to go. We aren’t going to get there by electing republicans or democrats and we certainly aren’t going to get there until we realize as a society that government should have virtually NO role in our lives whatsoever and that the free market can address all of our societal needs in a voluntary and competitive manner far better than any political system.

Unless we see and act upon that sign, the only sign ahead will be “Dead End”.


October 27th, 2010
9:29 am

I agree with Producer that the right approach is for state and local government to just say NO. Nullification may be the only approach left short of secession for getting the organized criminal element in Washington DC off our collective backs.

At a time when every state and local government is bankrupt, this is absolutely the time to say NO.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

October 27th, 2010
10:21 am

Funniest essay of the day, or at least it would be if not true. How did Georgia reps vots on this one?

Inman Parker

October 27th, 2010
10:23 am

Regardless of how silly this mandate is, what I find most disturbing is that Bob Barr did so little research on the topic, and was so anxious to sling mud at the big bad government, that he got his facts 100% completely backwards. This is indicative of a larger problem with “journalists” who are more interested in sensationalism that reporting news. Yes, I realize this is an op-ed piece, but as the saying goes, you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.


October 27th, 2010
10:52 am

Easy solution for the city of Atlanta: just don’t do it. Problem solved.


October 27th, 2010
11:11 am

No different than telling an adult he can’t buy a beer.


October 27th, 2010
11:51 am

I think Bob tries to reach all intelligence levels with his topics. This one is within the parameters of my intellect. I will admit when he gets into the Constitution my brain is struggling for air.
I never saw a road sing I did not like
some are short and to the point
some are long and hard to read
but the ones i like best
are the ones that lead me to the nearest beer joint.


October 27th, 2010
12:23 pm

MoveOn is reportedly gearing up to start infiltrating rallies being planned against the new regulations.

The MoveOn signs will be, of course, printed in federally approved ALL CAPS luminiscent ink so that aging baby boomers will be able to interpret them correctly.

All MoveOn anti-protest protestors will als be issued safety helmets in case of further ’stomping’ incidents.


October 27th, 2010
12:25 pm

The problems on the highway are not the signs that tell the name of the street, but the fact that too many drivers can’t be bothered or manage to read the important signs like STOP, YIELD, etc.

Consider the private solution to all of these problems.

Read Walter Block’s “Privatizing Roads and Highways.” Common sense alternatives to chronic government failures (is there any other kind?)


October 27th, 2010
1:22 pm

Which bureaucrat in Washington has relatives that are in the sign & paint business? New signs everywhere is a colossal boondoggle for the tax payers. The money could be better used for schools, hospitals, and veterans benefits.


October 27th, 2010
1:38 pm

The money could be better used back in my pocket, where it belongs.

mike simpson

October 27th, 2010
1:56 pm

Bob — While I admire you for many things, this column is beneath you. Either by conscious omission or lazy research, you left the reader with the distinct impression that this is just another stupid mandate by the Democratic Congress and President Obama. Come on Bob, “man up.” Why don’t you explain to your readers that this mandate came form George Bush’s Transportation Dept. in 2003!! States have until 2018 to comply. If you’re going to stick it to Wahington, at least have the guts to confess that this silliness is the brainchild of your former party.


October 27th, 2010
2:27 pm

If Mike is right and this mandate is the brainchild of the Bush Transportation Dept., how many of you whiners are going to slam the prior administration….not too many, I’ll bet!


October 27th, 2010
3:00 pm

oh BigApplePeach – you know how the party line goes around here – the “flow chart” is pretty simple

1. “(big) government” = bad
2. unless they get something right, then = republican idea
3. and if they get something wrong, then = democratic idea

politicians care about ideology. citizens care about results.

republicans = kings of “wedge issue” politics (that’s “ideology” for the Palin worshipers)
democrats = kings of, well, I’ll get back to you on that….


October 27th, 2010
3:40 pm

But Dave, it’s government money, not ours……….haven’t you figured out that there is a pot of money somewhere at the end of the govt rainbow?


October 27th, 2010
3:51 pm

Mr. Barr –
Are these folks right? Was this regulation adopted in 2003 by the former Federal Highway Safety Administration and the regulation was to require signs in upper and lower case? If so, I hope that you will be honest enough and courageous enough to print a retraction. I admire your work and don’t want to have to be concerned that you are confusing your facts in future columns.

Clean House

October 27th, 2010
4:11 pm

CLEAN OUT ALL OF THESE pinhead bureaucrats. This whole lettering idea is crazy. Everyone knows large and small caps are best. Once all the numbskulls spending our money are gone, then Bob can retire too. Here’s LOOKING AT YA!

BS Aplenty

October 27th, 2010
4:30 pm

When I initially read this opinion piece I was overjoyed that someone was enacting an ordinance to ban ALL CAPS commentary of his blog. I thought, “Ain’t it about time, brother.” I usually obsess for a couple hours after someone off-gases his puny thoughts in UPPER CASE presentation style. Usually there is an inverse corelation between UPPER CASE usage and comment quality. But, alas, the OP only pertains to the federal government’s ban on discriminatory spelling.

What a let down.

My final thought: if the feds don’t agreedo this please propose to AJC Opinion Section Editorial Board. I’m sure Ms. Tucker and Mr. Bookman would agree with me this once


October 27th, 2010
6:42 pm

At least they’re not required to print them in Braille (yet)!

mike simpson

October 27th, 2010
7:15 pm

Bob – Why don’t you check out the “The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices” (MUTCD) as approved by the Federal Highway Administrator in 2003, which I believe is during President Bush’s first term. It is posted here: http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/pdfs/2003r1r2/mutcd2003r1r2complet.pdf. The pertinent rule on street signs is found in section 2D.38. Any questions?

mmm, mmm, mmm, Barack the LIAR Obama, BEND OVER, here comes the CHANGE!

October 27th, 2010
7:47 pm

Mike – wake up. If people can’t read it’s not the signs I’m worried about. How about “falling rocks” or “too damn old to DRIVE”…Just another waste of taxpayers dollars….but just think SIX more days and the party will be over….as “Dandy” Don used to sing on MNF…”Turn out the lights, the party’s over……” mmm, mmm, mmm…

The Taxman Cometh

October 27th, 2010
8:18 pm

Another WTF moment brought to you by our imperial federal government…..

The Taxman Cometh

October 27th, 2010
8:20 pm

….and yes, WTF was purposely written in all caps…….

barking frog

October 27th, 2010
11:31 pm

….here’s your sign-Bill Engvall


October 28th, 2010
8:12 am

See this article: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/bronx/million_kuj8X4Z2VolVhXnCymfkvM

The change is from all caps to mixed case. The standard was put into place in 2003 as noted earlier with a 15 year period for local governments to comply. Is it silly? Sure. Is it an example of too much federal government? Yes. But let’s remember that in this case the federal government responsible was headed by Bush.


October 28th, 2010
10:29 am

In six days the other socialist party takes over. The new signs will be “Caution, Empire at Work” and “Failed Empire Ahead”.

A Hearty Cheese Sauce

October 28th, 2010
11:16 am

Coloring book, paint by numbers etc the washington idiot brigade still couldnt get it right.

Mr. Magoo

October 28th, 2010
1:18 pm

many baby boomers can’t read small print. Give the world a break, Bob Barr.

Libertarian Chick

October 28th, 2010
3:09 pm

What??? Was it something I said?

mike simpson

October 28th, 2010
3:58 pm

First, I agree that this is a silly idea. But Bob, while your are entitled to your own ideas, you are not entitled to your own facts. I was disappointed that you published a “correction” without also clarifying that this is an idea that came from Republicans seven years ago, not from the current Democratic Congress or Obama.

Second, Bob, get your facts straight. You are a lawyer (as am I), so you should know better than to rail against this silly rule as an unfunded federal mandate beyond the powers of Congress to legislate under Article I and the Tenth Amendment. Congress did not enact this legislation under its general legislative powers found in Art. I. Rather, it is Spending Clause legislation. As even you surely must know, that means that it is not a mandate at all. Congress has said to the states, if you want to receive federal highway funds, then you must make these (and other) changes. The states are free to ignore the street sign rule, but they must also reject federal highway funds. They cannot have their cake and eat it too. As I hope you know, the Supreme Court properly has recognized that Congress has very broad powers to legislate pursuant to the Spending Clause in areas that are not otherwise permitted under Art. I. It is, after all, simply an offer that the states are free to accept or refuse.

So may I propose that you make another correction clarifying both that this silliness came from George Bush and that it is not an unfunded federal mandate, but rather simply an offer from the federal government that states are free to accept or to reject?

Do I hold out the slightest hope that you are decent and honest enough to admit your mistakes? Not really. Your popularity is directly related to your ability to make your readers mad. And to achieve that end you are nothing more than a demagogue. If you recall, H.L. Mencken defined a demagogue as “”one who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.” With respect, Bob, that fits you to a “T,” and I’m calling you out. I’d love to see a response from you or your devoted followers.

mike simpson

October 28th, 2010
4:01 pm

Correction: “you” instead of “your” in the first line.

GSU Law student

October 30th, 2010
10:43 am

I’m not sure where Bob went to law school, but pretty sure he knows darned good and well that Mike Simpson said is true. Because I barely halfway through Constitutional Law I and, without even looking at the bill, I assumed it was most likely a Spending Clause take it or leave it measure, as most highway bills are. The reason the drinking age is 21 instead of 18 is because states didn’t want to lose 5% (yes, just 5%) of their federal funds. Bob, please admit the truth or go to Fox News.

GSU Law student

October 30th, 2010
10:46 am

forgot the word “what” before Mike and meant I’m barely through, not I barely through. Believe it or not, they have pretty high standards for admission and didn’t want to give the wrong impression. While I’m at it, I’ll also add that I completely agree with Mike’s assessment of Bob’s demagoguery.


November 1st, 2010
5:23 am

Like the WPA projects 75 years ago, changing signs is a jobs program. From cutting the wood, to buying the paint, to coning off the traffic and cutting some ribbons.