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Management of roads used to be the business of local governments – that is, until the federal government dangled its grant money over the states as leverage.  Now, thanks to this usurpation of authority, we have stories like this:

…[T]he Federal Highway Administration is ordering all local governments — from the tiniest towns to the largest cities — to go out and buy new street signs that federal bureaucrats say are easier to read.

The rules are part of a tangle of regulations included in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

The 800-plus page book tells local governments they:

— Should increase the size of the letters on street signs from the current 4 inches to 6 inches on all roads with speed limits over 25 miles per hour. The target date for this to be completed is January 2012.

— Install signs with new reflective letters more visible at night by January 2018.

— And whenever street name signs are changed for any reason, they can no longer be in ALL CAPS.

Why is the federal government ordering local governments, already strapped for cash, to waste millions on unnecessary sign changes? This might have something to do with it:

Whether or not requiring cities and towns to replace all their street signs improves safety, it would undoubtedly be a windfall for the multi-billion-dollar-a-year sign industry.

The American Traffic Safety Services Association — which represents companies that make signs and the reflective material used on them — lobbied hard for the new rules.  And at least one key study used to justify the changes was funded by the 3M Corporation, one of the few companies that make the reflective material now required on street signs.

Contrary to the claims of statists, it is big government, and not free markets, which favor big business. Without a centralized authority capable of making such dictates, rent seeking sign makers would have had to successfully lobby every local government in the nation to achieve this same payout, a feat they would not have been able to accomplish.

Hat-tip: Open Market

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