Reader Question: When Should Old Exit Number Signs Come Down?

“I have been traveling I-80 for about 20 years and, in Pennsylvania, they renumbered their exits quite some time ago to align with the road mileage — probably more than 20 years ago. They still have road signs that say ‘Old Exit 50’, but I doubt anyone is using a map that still references these old exit numbers. Is there some kind of law–state or federal–that requires interstates to keep the Old Exit Number reminder signs up there for a certain period of time? I feel like it’s time for those to come down, at least in Pennsylvania. Thanks!”

Reader Question: When Should Old Exit Number Signs Come Down?

That intriguing question — at least, intriguing to me, anyway — was asked by Jeannine (Sorge) Sohayda, who is a reader of The Gate; and she posted the comment you just read in response to this article pertaining to me standing in the middle of Interstate 70 west of Baltimore.

Although I have driven on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania numerous times — more than I care to remember; and I do vaguely remember the “Old Exit” signs which are supposed to only be temporary — I did not know the answer to that question.

It was time to start investigating.

Federal Highway Administration of the United States

During my initial research, I found this document from the United States Department of Labor; and the diagram in the ninth section called Roads Opened and Closed with Detour must have been created by someone in New Jersey — specifically, Paramus — due to the route number and state highway shields used in the diagram…

…but that information got me no closer to the answer; and using search terms such as old exit number signs did not help at all.

As the Interstate highway system is a national network of highways, I first called the telephone number for general information at the Federal Highway Administration of the United States. I was expecting the whole voice message runaround thing that one usually encounters with a government entity.

To my surprise, a woman immediately answered the telephone and asked how she could help. I identified myself and relayed the question to her.

“You want to find out about commercial licenses?” she asked.

“I — huh? What? No…” I replied, momentarily astonished as I wondered where that came from. I then repeated the request.

“Signage is determined by the state. Which state are you referring to?”

“Pennsylvania,” I answered.

She then gave me the telephone number to PennDOT, which is the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. I thanked her. She wished a nice day for me, and I reciprocated. I wish telephone calls with more government agencies were as efficient and as pleasant.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

I then called the telephone number which was given to me; and after waiting at least two minutes, there it was: a voice message greeted me with five different options. I chose the one for general questions, which led me to another voice message which greeted me with six more options — none of which applied to the topic of the question I wanted to ask…

…so I resorted to an old trick: I pressed 0.

“I did not understand. Please try again.”

After repeating this two or three times, the voice message system transferred me to a live person, who — after I imparted my request to her — explained that she handles motor vehicle services for motorists and could not answer my question; and she transferred me to a more appropriate department for the answer.

I waited another four minutes or so until a woman answered. I asked the question about old exit number signs, which left her stumped.

“I really do not know the answer to that question off the top of my head,” she responded — seemingly scratching her head, as I could hear the perplexity in her voice. “Let me see if I can find out. Can you hold?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Thank you.”

After another few minutes, she informed me that the counties in the state of Pennsylvania are responsible for signage on highways and not PennDOT. She even attempted to get a central telephone number for me to call; but one did not exist.

Summary

I wish I had a definitive answer for Jeannine (Sorge) Sohayda to the question she asked. I would contact the county — or counties — in which the “Old Exit” number signs are located. Are they in Monroe County or Carbon County or Luzerne County?

Although there are national standards for virtually everything which has to do with Interstate Highways as documented in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways, I do know that there is no federal law which determines how long “Old Exit” number signs remain in service; and there is apparently no state law which determines that, either…

…so in the meantime, I defer to you: do you know anything about how long “Old Exit” signs should remain in service along a highway after the exits have been renumbered — and why they have not yet been taken down in Pennsylvania?

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

6 thoughts on “Reader Question: When Should Old Exit Number Signs Come Down?”

  1. Lance says:

    Hey Brian (and Jeanine), I’m glad you guys raised this — as its been one of those questions lurking in the back on my mind for years, but I kind of got used to the “old exit” thing on I-81. I live near Wilkes-Barre, Pa. off I-81 and still think of the exits for my hometown as 47-A/B — when in fact, they haven’t been that for years — once I read this article I had to look the “correct” exit numbers up (its now 170, but for you raising this issue, and even though I drive that route constantly, I couldn’t tell you that…). Anyway, your question intrigued me as well and I found this on the web — an old PennDOT document (http://www.dot.state.pa.us/public/pdf/mileageb.pdf) from 2000 about the renumbering that talks about the old numbers being keep up for 2 years — which would have been 2002, not 2018. FWIW.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Fantastic work, Lance — thank you!

      Stated on page 3 of the document:

      “PennDOT will adopt the new mileage-based system beginning in April 2001.

      “All signs will include both the old and the new exit numbers for a period of at least two years. This will enable motorists to become familiar with the mileage-based system.”

      I was about to write that technically, at least two years have passed and motorists should be familiar with the no-longer-new exit numbering system by now — but then I read your comment and realized that the “Old Exit” number signs were not yet removed because of you; so it is all your fault…

      …please accept my apologies; but I just had to laugh at that!

      1. Lance says:

        No offense taken, Brian. I think I’m old enough that I can recall folks asking for directions to my office when they drove up from Philly or Harrisburg or wherever — and I just got used to saying “take Exit 47-B…” and that has gotten stuck in my brain like other useless knowledge including the fact that technically “Wilkes-Barre” is the only hyphenated city in the U.S. Now, folks no longer use the rotary dial phone to call and ask me for directions, but rather punch it into an app so the need to remember exit numbers (old or new) has likely — like everything else — passed me by!

  2. lenin1991 says:

    I lived in Pittsburgh when renumbering there happened on I-79 and I-279 in the mid-1990s. Those Old Exit signs were up years longer than I thought reasonable, but it looks like they’ve come down. (Presumably in time for the I-376 redesignation last decade, because otherwise, they’d have needed Old Exit and Old Old Exit signs.) I took this longevity as another indication that people in western & central PA have long memories: any directions you ask for are likely to include as landmarks businesses closed for decades.

    They also did turnpike renumbering in the early 2000s; a spokesman then said the Old Exit signs would be up about a year, and based on Google Streetview, they also came down eventually: http://triblive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/regional/s_11477.html

  3. Jeannine Sohayda says:

    Thank you so much for the effort and for taking my question seriously. I think it’s Monroe County, actually. I thought maybe they just left them up because it would cost taxpayer money to take them down and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was just being fiscally responsible (optimism).

    Thanks for the interest! I’ll keep trying to find more stumpers.

  4. Gino says:

    It seems to me like they remove them when they replace the signs due to damage or construction. When they renumbered I-70 between WV and New Stanton years ago, they put up the Old Exit signs, of which many along the corridor still remain. The New Stanton and Hunker (just before the Turnpike exit on I-70) signs were recently replaced and no longer have the little old exit sign on them, but the Madison and Yukon exits just past them still do.

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