Putting America's Signmakers to Work

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is making news today with his lengthy criticism of some projects funded by stimulus money. I can't remember a single time I shared a millimeter of common ground with the conservative Oklahoma Senator, but I have to admit similar thoughts occurred to me when I drove past this massive sign advertising the source of funding for road work on I-64 near Hurricane, West Virginia.  Picture after the jump.

Among other complaints, Coburn cites installation of $300 signs at construction sites, which are designed to credit stimulus spending for funding the road work.  Since state transportation departments manage their own signage, that price estimate likely refers to those being used in Oklahoma.  The sheer size of this one I saw in West Virginia makes me think it probably cost more.

In response to Coburn's criticisms, Transportation Department spokeswoman Jill Zuckman told the AP that each state decides whether or not to use stimulus money for signs.  However, based on guidelines detailed on the DoT's own website, that doesn't appear to be true.  The Federal Transportation Authority (FTA) asks and answers its own question for American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) grantees:

Are FTA grantees required to display any special signs or logos to identify ARRA funded projects?

Yes.... The grant agreement for each FTA ARRA grant includes a special condition as follows:  Emblems:  The Recipient agrees to use signs and materials that display both the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) emblem and the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program emblem to identify its project(s) financed with Recovery Act funds that are provided by U.S. DOT in a manner consistent with Federal guidance, and to include this provision in any subagreements, leases, third party contracts, or other similar documents used in connection with its Recovery Act Project(s).

So let's assume that the 20,000 projects already approved for funding by ARRA will, in fact, display signage crediting the stimulus money. Just for this little exercise, let's further assume that $300 represents an accurate median estimate for the cost of each one. 

My calculator tells me this adds up to $6,000,000 worth of signs. That's only half a drop in the federal budget bucket, though jaw-dropping it may sound to a person of my limited means.  It puts our taxpayer dollars to work so that we can all be informed that our taxpayer dollars are at work. Do I really need to know that badly?

I do recognize the value in advertising the localized impact of stimulus funds, and I'm certain signmakers appreciate the extra business, but is this the wisest use of $6,000,000? I can't pretend to be wholly confident in the answer to that question, and would be very interested to hear your opinion on the matter. 

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Christina Davidson is a writer, photographer, and book editor who specializes in national security, terrorism, and war. She also writes for the food blog Feed The Masses.

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