More Economical Procurement of Signs and Pavement Markers

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1971-11-30.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)


                                     UN~?ED STATES GENERAL A~CUUNTENG OF&E
                                                     WASHINGTON,         D.C.   20548

                                                                        NW 3 0 1971

            Dear Mr. Turner:

                    We have completed a limited           review of the procurement        practices
            of several     States for signs and pavement markers for Federal-aid                   high-
            ways and the material         specifications        for these signs.      There are
            variations     in these practices         and specifications        which can result     in
            significant      cost differences       as illustrated       below.

                                                                           1970 vender prices
                                                                   To                To Contractors
                          Sign                               California             Orepon     Arizona

             "STOP"                                           $ 8.60                    $18.75       $21.56

            Pavement width            transition                   22.90                 44.00        55.20
            (lane reduction)

             "END DIVIDED ROAD"                                    15.60                 24.75        31.05'

             "EXIT           MPH"                                  28.60                 55.00        69.00

             "SPEED LIMIT                 II                       33.60                 55.00        69.00

             "KEEP RIGHT (arrow)"                                   6.70                 13.75        17.25

             Interstate          Shield                             7.20                 12.00        13.80

                     In comparison to the prices at which signs were purchased by
             California,    prices to contractors    in Oregon ranged from 58 to
             118 percent higher and in Arizona from 91 to 157 percent higher.
             For example, during 1970 California       purchased approximately   2,600
             stop signs for about $22,400.        At quoted prices,   the same number
             of stop signs would have cost contractors        $48,800 in Oregon or
             $56,100 in Arizona.     The major reasons for these differences      are
             discussed below.

                                                   50 7-H ANMVERSARY            1921-I 1931

      California     estimates its annual requirements           for signs for all
highways, purchases the signs under competitively-awarded                 contracts
for each of the three major types of signs it uses--reflective,                    por-
celain enamel on aluminum and porcelain              enamel on steel--and     fur-
nishes them for installation           as needed to the prime contractor
responsible      for the highway construction.           Both Arizona and Oregon
make the prime contractors          responsible    for purchase and installation
of signs.      Texas follows     the Arizona and Oregon system for larger
signs but it purchases materials            for smaller signs under competitively
awarded contracts       and fabricates      and installs     the signs with State

        California's        method permits the State to achieve savings through
volume purchasing            under competitive     conditions     and was the most eco-
nomical method followed             by the States we reviewed.         The advantage of
purchasing        to meet total annual requirements             is shown by the cost
difference        between the contrasting        methods followed      by California       for
providing       reflective       pavement markers used as lane separators.              The
State purchases the markers for maintenance,                   but requires    individual
prime contractors            to purchase and install        them for new construction.
During 1970 the State paid an average of $.85 each for the markers it
purchased,        while the contractors        paid an average of $.95 each for
smaller quantities.             We estimate that the State could have saved
about $182,000 during 1969 and 1970 if it had purchased directly                          all
markers required           for both its maintenance and construction             programs.

        Highway department          representatives        in Arizona and Oregon were
not aware of the possible economies that could result                      from using      .
California's        method for purchasing           signs.    They did not realize     that
California's        costs were even lower than the cost of signs made in
their State-operated             shops for use in maintenance work and road con-
struction     not on the Federal-aid             system.     FHWA division    office  and
regional     office     officials      in Oregon and Arizona appeared reluctant
to examine further           into California's         method for possible application
elsewhere despite the indications                 of lower costs.


       Various States use different      thicknesses of the same backing
material     for similar     signs. The extent of the differences is shown
on the following       table.

         ,             ,

                                                   Thickness,    in inches, of aluminum for
                                                   warning,   regulatory,   and marker signs

                                                 Signs up to                         Signs over              All
                               State      18"
                                          -mm-m 20"   30"    48"        9SF*      30"
                                                                                  mm-     48"   9SF*        signs

                   Arizona                                                                                   .125

                   California                                   .063                     .080

                   Colorado                                     .lOO                     .125

                   Georgia                                               .0x0                   .lOO

                   Illinois                                              .080                    .125

                   Minnesota             .063            .080                    .lOO

                   New York                                                                                  .lOO

                   Oregon                        .063    .080   .lOO                     .125

                   Pennsylvania                                                                              .080

                   Texas                                                                                     .125
                                         *SF-Square     feet

                          The use of thinner materials      could have a significant    impact on
                   the cost of signs and could result        in considerable    savings to both
                   the Federal Government and the States.         For example, the cost to a
                   sign manufacturer     for .125-inch   aluminum   sheeting is about 50 percent
                   more than for .080-inch      sheeting and about 90 percent more than for
                   .063--inch sheeting.

                          The States also use different       materials   for different      types of
                   signs.     The most widely used materials       for these signs are aluminum
                   extrusions,     laminated aluminum honeycomb panels, sheet aluminum
             .     panels, and high density plywood faced with either             reflective     sheeting
                   or metal panels.        Not all of these materials     are used in each State
                   and some States specify only a single material.            For example, California
                   specifies    only porcelainized    steel for overhead signs while Oregon
                   authorizes    the use of either    extruded aluminum or sheet aluminum for
                   these signs.      The types of materials     used by various       States is shown
                   in the appendix.


---~,.           . -
            Little    or no documented information         is available      at the State
     level as to why specific        thicknesses    or types of materials           are used.
     One State official       told us that current        sign specifications        in his
     State evolved through long experience            in the field,       laboratory
     testing,      and sign manufacturers'     suggestions.        No documentation      was
     available      to support the current     specifications.

             The FHWA Regional Administrator,        Region 8, reviewed    this matter
     within his region and informed us that the use of differing               thick-
     nesses of sign materials       was justified     because of differing     wind
     velocities.    However, no specific        documentation  was given to support
     the use of specific      thicknesses     of aluminum and we noted that some
     States with the same or lower registered           wind velocities    as other
     States use thinner materials         than the other States for comparable
                              *       *       *       *         *

             In our opinion    FHWA leadership    is needed to achieve greater
     economy in signing and marking the Federal-aid             highway system.
     FHWA should examine further        into California's     annual requirements
     contracting      method for the procurement      of signs to determine           the
     possible      economy of its broader application.        There is also a
     need for FHWA to determine and issue appropriate              standards for
     the thickness and type of materials          used for signs on future
     Federal-aid      highway projects.     Such a standardization        could be
     adopted in conjunction       with FHWA's program for providing           uni-        '
._   formity     in the types of messages, lettering,        colors,    reflectivity,
     and placement of signs on the highway.

           We appreciate   the cooperation     and courtesies      extended to us by
     both FHWA and State highway officials           during our review.     We would
     appreciate   your advice as to any considerations           which may be given
     to the broader application      of California's       method of procuring   signs
     and the development     of standards for the thickness and- type of
     materials  used for signs.

                                                          Sincerely   yours,

                                                          Richard W. Kelley
                                                          Assistant Director

     Mr. Francis C. Turner, Administrator
     Federal Highway Administration
     Department of Transportation

                                                                                 .   ...^ .,,_.>


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