The $77,000 question (AKA, adventures in confusion and clarity)

By guest blogger Jamie Holter

Boy, our Street Smarts answer in the Everett Herald sure sparked a lot of debate this week. We responded to a reader question about the cost of putting a sign in a particular location. In the original article (printed two weeks ago), we were explaining why we DIDN’T put the sign in the location because, among other things, cost was an issue. When we were explaining how costs can be high, we used an outside, worst-case scenario number factoring in everything that could go wrong as support for our position to not put up the sign. We also tried to explain that putting up a sign is not as simple as pounding a couple posts into the ground. We threw out some upper end, worst-case scenario numbers…and they went viral.

Example of a sign that can cost up to $10,000

KIRO 97.3 radio host Dori Monson challenged us live on air to compare his cost list to ours. Here’s the interview. Here’s a write up. (Incidentally, I like this one because it shows a picture of the kind of sign and many people think we are talking about a small side-of-the-road speed limit sign.) As you heard, the end result shows Monson Construction and WSDOT were about the same.

Then KOMO AM 1000’s Ken Schram gave us the Schrammie. If you don’t know, that’s an award he gives out each week for waste or a “duh” moment. What can I say? WSDOT is low-hanging fruit for the media.

Example of a sign that can cost up to $77,000

So here, once again, is an attempt at the breakdown of possible costs – all variable of course due to the location and size of the sign: There is coordination with utilities so you don’t cut fiber lines; there’s ordering the sign, building the sign with special bracing so it doesn’t flap in the wind, driving to and from the site, gas for all the vehicles, digging holes, placing rebar, pouring concrete, installing anchor plates, closing lanes for several hours, bringing a hoist out to place the 15-foot tall posts and setting up the 250 pound sign. It’s specially designed to “break away” so when someone hits it, drivers won’t be injured. You need special materials for that. Returning to the area a second time when the concrete has cured to finish the work. All in all, this particular kind of sign in a similar location cost $10,000. Our workers make $20/hour. When they work at night they get an additional 65 cents an hour.

We work hard to keep our costs down and our transparency up. We work hard to explain the process of following laws, laws designed to keep people safe on the highways, laws designed to keep our water and air clean (AKA “environmental regulations”), laws that say signs must be large enough you can see them with old eyes driving by at 65 miles per hour and laws that say you can’t kill someone with a defective sign after you build it and walk away.

It is frustrating to us when we try to be accountable to taxpayers and explain a worst case and best case scenarios, readers and media quickly jump to the worst numbers.