Highway Signs:

Conversion to Metric Units Could Be Costly

RCED-95-156: Published: Jul 7, 1995. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Federal Highway Administration's (FHwA) metric conversion plan, focusing on the: (1) status of federal and states' efforts to convert highway signs to metric units; and (2) possible costs involved in implementing the conversion.

GAO found that: (1) in June 1994, FHwA announced that it was postponing the deadline for converting highway signs until at least after 1996 and as a result, most states have deferred their sign conversion activities; (2) FHwA postponed the conversion because recent legislative requirements have prohibited the use of federal-aid highway funds for this activity, and it received negative comments regarding the costs of the conversion; (3) since sign conversion remains a goal, FHwA is continuing with activities to support conversion, such as converting its manual on highway signs into English and metric units; (4) there is no comprehensive estimate of the costs to convert highway signs to metric units, but Alabama has determined that it would cost about $420 million to convert the signs in state and local roads; and (5) an FHwA contractor will be developing a comprehensive estimate, but there is concern that little data are available to estimate sign conversions on local roads, since inventories of local signs may not exist.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The agency has completed the national cost estimate study and did not include the potential costs of educating the public about converting highway signs to metric units, as GAO recommended.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to expand the national cost estimate study to include the potential costs of educating the public about converting highway signs to metric units.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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