Current Events vs. Founding Documents

This column presents facts regarding the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Wisconsin State Constitution, and various other documents in reference to modern topics. Mark hopes to encourage interest in those works so that others can consider whether our government is practicing within its constitutional limits. In the last category, he may indicate his opinion. Mark is a resident of New Berlin. Readers are encouraged to visit the following sites for more information on the United States Constitution and Thomas Jefferson's views on politics and government.

Federal Street Sign Mandate

10th amendment, Constitution, Legislative branch

Entry 62 

Current Event

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 28, 2010 

Milwaukee city officials are asking the federal government to give them more time to comply with rules that require replacing signs and traffic signals, at a cost of $5.3 million to local taxpayers.

The Federal Highway Administration guidelines call for changing all-capital street name signs to a mixture of capital and small letters and increasing signs' reflectivity, to ensure they are more visible as drivers age. State and local governments would have until 2018 to implement the changes, replacing street signs as they wear out, under the guidelines, which are being written into state law.

When the rules came to light earlier this month, public works officials said they planned to spend $1.4 million over the next four years to replace the signs, or $350,000 a year. They said they already had started implementing the long-expected changes in recent years, and the remaining 80% of the city's 21,929 signs are approaching the end of their useful lives.

Nonetheless, the expenditure drew fire from conservatives who blasted it as a waste of money. U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Menomonee Falls Republican, vowed to introduce legislation to block the highway agency from imposing the rules. And on Thursday, the Common Council's Finance & Personnel Committee voted to cut the amount budgeted next year for street name sign upgrades by $146,625, in the hope the federal government would relent on the deadline.

But the street name signs aren't the only items that would need to change under the new rules. For example, increasing the reflectivity of other street signs would cost $800,000, said Bob Bryson, chief city traffic and street lighting engineer.

Other rules would require overhead signs at intersections for left-turn-only lanes and larger lettering on signs for roads with the highest speed limits, among other changes, adding up to $1.2 million, Bryson said. Traffic lights also would have to be moved to clarify which lanes they control, as part of signal changes that would total $1.9 million, he said.

By 2013, the federal agency also wants every intersection controlled by a stoplight to be equipped with "walk" signs that count down how much time pedestrians have to cross the street before the light turns red.

The countdown signals are in place at a few Milwaukee intersections now. million, said Jodie Upgrading the remaining 6,000 "walk" signs would cost $3.7 Tabak, spokeswoman for Mayor Tom Barrett. Because the city has obtained $800,000 in state and federal grants and is seeking grants to cover the remaining $2.9 million, that cost isn't included in the $5.3 million local price tag for the other changes, Public Works Commissioner Jeff Mantes said.

Complying with the requirements "will cause the City of Milwaukee undue financial hardship during a time that we are struggling to fund our core services," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Ald. Michael Murphy, chairman of the council finance panel, wrote in a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

In a separate letter to the highway administration, Mantes and City Engineer Jeff Polenske said meeting the requirements would take money away from higher-priority items, such as fixing streets and bridges and upgrading traffic signals.

If they could, city officials would still make the changes, but would time them to coincide with paving projects and grants, Mantes said.

The full council will consider the cut in street sign spending when it acts on the budget Nov. 5.


Federal vs. Local Authority

Founding Document

US Constitution, 10th Amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

We the People:

Representative Sensenbrenner understands; Senators Kohl and Feingold do not. How would the federal government enforce this unconstitutional requirement in Milwaukee or your municipality? Call your US senator to find out…

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