By Elizabeth Hewitt
For many Vermont businesses and attractions, their nearest interstate exit number is a key line in their advertising. But soon, those numbers may change. State transportation officials met last week with federal officials to discuss Vermont’s interstate signage.
Under a standard set in 2009, all states are required to number exits on the interstate system according to the mile marker, rather than sequentially — as is the current practice in Vermont.
Most states have adopted the new signage practice, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Vermont is one of the states yet to adopt the standard for numbering exits, and Gov. Phil Scott would like to keep it that way.
Overhauling the system would be a burden for Vermont companies, many of which display their interstate exit number prominently on their advertising material, Scott’s spokesperson, Rebecca Kelley, said.
“It would just be a really big impact on our small businesses,” Kelley said.
From breweries to food destinations, nonprofits to towns themselves, interstate exit numbers are a key part of marketing efforts, according to Kelley.
“It’s all going to have to be updated,” she said.
VTrans Secretary Joe Flynn said one consideration state officials would be raising with their federal counterparts is that Vermont’s exit signs are relatively new.
“We see no reason to change perfectly good signs,” he said.
Flynn also raised concerns about the “ripple effect” changing the system would have on local commerce.
The cost of replacing the signs would be picked up entirely by the federal government, according to Flynn. However, even though the expense doesn’t come out of state coffers, the administration questions whether it’s necessary to replace the signs.
“It’s still taxpayer money that we’re not completely sure has to be spent here,” Flynn said.
The new exit sign style requirement was determined through a collaborative committee process among states to create standards for consistency across state lines. The standardization practice dates back to the 1930s.
The practice is responsible for setting traffic norms like the double yellow centerline, the red-and-white stop sign, and other signs and standards that have become ubiquitous.
Some of the guidance the committee issues are best practices, recommendations that states can choose to adopt. Others are standards, which are binding. The new exit numbering system falls under the latter category.
Federal Highway Administration spokesperson Doug Hecox said the federal government is working with Vermont officials on the issue.
“Safety is our top priority, and ensuring that highways in all states offer drivers a consistent approach to highway navigation – from directional signs to mileposts – is a step in that direction,” Hecox said.