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Federal law could spell end for Fox Point's signature street signs

Nov. 16, 2011

Fox Point - It's never been difficult to determine when you are within Fox Point by virtue of the street signs - a longtime trademark of the village.

But the dark-colored signs, complimented with a cut-out image of a fox, could soon become extinct because of new federal law enacted recently by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Based on current legislation, the village has until 2018 to replace the fox-adorned street signs with a permissible alternative. The new federal guidelines, according to LaHood and other officials within the department, are designed to increase pedestrian and motorist visibility. Through its Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices publication, LaHood's Federal Highway Administration set a number of standards, including limits on retroreflectivity - a buzzword related to the amount of light a sign reflects back to its viewer.

The village recently enlisted the services of R.A. Smith National, a surveying and engineering firm, to review all village-owned street signs. The firm released its findings last week.

According to the firm's analysis, Fox Point has 1,325 owned signs throughout the village. In addition to street signs, the figure includes a variety of other signs, including speed limits, pedestrian crossings and stop signs.

Based on current federal standards, the village will have to replace 1,010 of its signs within the next six years. Some of the signs are reflecting too much light back to motorists, based on new standards, while others are simply worn and in need of replacement.

Jeff Mazanec of R.A. Smith said the village could explore other options for its street signs. He said the signs could be placed on white-on-brown street signs, possibly mounted in a decorative bracket. But the cut-out fox insignia remains in question.

Village President Mike West has been a staunch advocate of the existing street signs, which have received historic designation by Milwaukee County. While the street signs themselves are generally not visible at night, the village has placed additional green-colored reflective signage, alerting motorists to an upcoming street with arrows.

"(The existing street signs) are part of the patrimony in our village," West said. "They are most definitely historical landmarks."

West and other village officials have been stating their case with transportation officials at the federal level. More recently, a letter was sent to U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl.

"We'll sort through this," West said.

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