Erie County sign making a one man job

There's only one way signs on Erie County roads get made.
Andy Ouriel
Feb 1, 2012

There’s only one way signs on Erie County roads get made.

Since arriving nine years ago, Michael Smith has designed and installed many of the 3,200 traffic signs posted on county roads.

Smith is the county’s lone sign man.

From laminating traffic images onto the proper color scheme to screwing in bolts and hoisting the finished product on county roads, Smith keeps drivers street smart.

“I feel like it’s kind of an art to create them,” Smith said. “I feel satisfied that I help people stay safe when they drive.”

He creates about 200 signs a year. A one-time grant received in 2011 generated enough money to make 500 signs.

Creating 200 signs costs about $6,000, or about half as much compared to buying them from an outside vendor.

The sign shop’s overall annual budget totals about $15,500.

“It just makes for a most cost-effective operation,” engineer Jack Farschman said. “If we have someone who has the whole responsibility in the county to create and install signs, it also keeps that person up to date on the regulations filtering down from the federal and state level.”

There’s also another benefit by making signs locally.

“They are available right now,” Smith said. “If we have an accident, and I need to replace a sign, I can have it made and be out there within an hour whereas a sign that we order takes about three weeks.”

Along with creating signs, Smith also tests the reflective properties for every county sign each year.

To date, about 99 percent of the county’s signs comply with new state regulations, stipulating how shiny a sign must be when headlights flash a marker.

“The reason for the upgrade is because, as the population gets older with baby boomers, our eyes don’t see as well,” Smith said.

Among the most popular signs Smith creates includes speed and weight limit warnings.

His biggest gripe, when dealing with signs, is vandalism.

“The worst problem I have with signs is paintballs,” Smith said. “People go out with their paintball guns because signs make great targets. Paintball washes out of people’s clothes, but when it gets on a sign, the sun bakes the paint on there and it’s hard to get off.”

But his biggest irritant is when people ignore signs.

“When people don’t pay attention to signs, it bothers me,” he said. “Also when I see other signs that don’t look right.”