How to do the electric sign?

By on April 25, 2012

By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

It’s electric.

Well, at least quite a few more signs are around the area these days.

The topic of electronic signboards was once again the topic of discussion when the Ephrata Township Board of Supervisors met for their monthly meeting in April. It is now clear the township is moving closer to enacting some guidelines with regard to the use of such signs.

What is not clear is exactly what form those regulations will take.

Electronic advertisement boards have become the rage in recent years, being found everywhere, from along Route 222 to various locations along 322. Supervisors discussed at length, the findings that the more often the messages transmitted by these signs change, the higher incident of accidents caused by drivers distracted by the signs.

Yet, while public safety remains the chief concern in considering the matter, supervisors were also sympathetic to the needs to local businesses.

"We don’t want to do anything to in any way impede on commerce," said supervisor Clark Stauffer, "but we also need to be concerned about safety."

One key sticking point in the conversation has to do with the rate at which signs can change message without creating too much of a distraction to drivers and potentially unsafe driving conditions. From once every 15 minutes to once per day, the arguments for various combinations of allowances continue to be carefully weighed by the supervisors.

Altogether the township has already been working for six months on a draft amendment to the township code covering free-standing signs. In the process, not only has the rate at which the electronic messages can change been considered, but so too has been the size of signs allowable, locations for signs and the types permitted in various locations.

No action, however, was taken at the meeting. In fact, supervisors have taken a steady approach rather than rushing to enact something before all factors can be given proper thought. Once supervisors are comfortable they have a draft amendment that addresses their concerns, the measure will be submitted for review by the township and county planning commissions for input.

As if the process were not already challenging enough, any significant changes suggested by either planning commission would, in effect, send the measure back to the drawing board and the process would begin all over again.

The Federal Highway Administration had been collecting a considerable amount of data on this very topic on their website. One concern voiced by supervisors was the current volatility of federal regulations which could render all the work done at the local level a moot point if the federal government were to impose regulations from that level. Supervisors pointed to data on the federal websites which indicated that more frequent sign changes were directly related to public safety concerns.

"There is a direct correlation between cycle change and the risk of distraction," said township engineer Ben Webber. "Increasing it four-fold to allow changes every 15 minutes might be inviting trouble."

Township supervisor Tyler Zerbe indicated that a consensus of opinion seemed to be eluding even those serving on the township planning commission, with some feeling things should be left unchanged.

In considering the whole issue of electronic sign boards, the other factor which will need to be resolved is that of sign brightness. The brightness of such signs is measured in "nits." Depending on the location of the sign and whether the sign is located in a predominantly residential area, versus a more commercial district, sign brightness could mean a number of different things. Sign brightness, coupled with the frequency of message change, can also work together to create increased chances of distracted drivers posing traffic safety issues.

And to add further mud to already cloudy waters, the size of electronic signboards would need to be a function of location, type and brightness.

One type of sign which would likely not be affected by an amendment would be those signs advertising the prices for gasoline. Typically found at corner locations, those signs generally change less frequently and do not inherently pose a risk of distraction.

Any further action on proposed changes will be tabled until further research and discussion can take place.

In other township news, supervisors agreed to shelve, for now, any plans to upgrade the intersection of Schoeneck Road and Route 272. It became clear that questions about who would be funding what remained unsettled. Further, what the project might cost remained a big question and finding even a ballpark figure might be hard to determine without incurring engineering costs to draw up specifications for the project.

Should the project begin to move on toward fruition, the township would be working with PennDOT on plans to replace traffic signals and poles, achieve corner setbacks and effect a rather significant improvement to the intersection. As more information and discussion takes place, further consideration will be made as to the future of the project.

For additional information on Ephrata Township, visit ephratatownship.org. Gary P. Klinger welcomes your questions, comments and suggestions via e-mail at klingerglobal@gmail.com. More ELECTRIC, page A16

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