Chain O’ Lakes residents are asking Dayton Town Chairman Chris Klein to reconsider his plan to move stop signs and fire numbers throughout the area.
They believe the plan will lead to more trees being cut down or trimmed.
Klein, whose tree cutting last year brought dozens of irate citizens to town meetings, says he is simply bringing the signs in compliance with state and county regulations.
On Sunday, April 21, Klein met with several town residents who have expressed concern about his plans for the trees in Dayton. He then took them on a tour to examine three stop signs.
Many of those at the meeting came away with the impression that Klein plans to relocate 300 stop signs and 1,700 fire numbers throughout the town of Dayton.
“I don’t have a number,” Klein said, when the County Post asked how many signs he plans to move. “At the meeting, I was asked how many stop signs are in the town of Dayton and I guessed 300.”County Post that he did not have an estimate for the cost of relocating the signs. He also did not have an estimated cost for relocating one sign.
Klein said he now believes the number of stop signs the town is actually responsible for is closer to 150.
“I don’t know how many don’t comply with state statutes,” Klein said. “It could be half of them, but that’s just a guess.”
Klein said state law requires that official, traffic regulatory signs must comply with the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).
Issued by the Federal Highway Commission, the MUTCD sets the standards for the design and installation of all traffic signs, lights and pavement markings.
Klein said the MUTCD standard for a stop sign in rural areas is 12 feet from the lane of traffic it is regulating.
John Hebbring, who attended the April 21 meeting, said Klein was quite clear in his intention to move all of Dayton’s stop signs.
“I asked him point blank if he was going to move all the stop signs in the town of Dayton and he said yes,” Hebbring recalled.
Hebbring also believes Klein is misinterpreting the MUTCD standards.
He noted that the MUTCD indicates that stop signs “shall be located as close as practical to the intersection it regulates, while optimizing its visibility to the road user.”
“I don’t believe there are any stop signs in our town that are 12 feet away from the road,” Hebbring said. “I think for the most part, it’s a waste of time and taxpayer money.”
Klein told the
“I don’t expect that all of this work will be completed at one time,” Klein said.
Klein said the stop signs he showed to local residents on April 21 had obstructed views in their current location.
“Some may require tree removal or additional tree trimming to make them visible,” Klein said. “That will take case-by-case observation and reasonable decision making.”
County Supervisor Bob Ellis accompanied Klein on the tour of Dayton’s stop signs. He believes the signs will become obstructed because they are moved.
“Moving the signs only two feet from their current location in order to be legal will result in the loss of more trees,” Ellis said. “All these signs that are in question would be behind trees.”
“We are looking at all of the state and federal standards right now and trying to give Dayton a recommendation,” County Highway Commissioner Dean Steingraber said.
Steingraber said state and federal standards are complex and not always clear. He plans to provide Dayton with a written recommendation as soon as possible.
There are approximately 1,700 fire numbers or address signs in front of homes and businesses in the town of Dayton.
According to Town Clerk Judy Suhs, the fire numbers were installed by former Town Chairman Harry Thoms about five to six years ago.
“The signs were not placed in the correct spot,” Suhs said.
Klein also believes a former town chairman misinterpreted the county ordinance and placed the signs too close to the road.
“In some cases, their current location may interfere with snow plowing or roadside mowing and could be a hazard to motorists or bicyclists,” Klein said.
Chapter 11 of the Waupaca County Code of Ordinances regulates the placement of address signs in rural areas.
“The sign shall be located no more than 10 feet away from the abutting road right-of-way and no more than 20 feet away from the edge of the driveway,” the code says.
A typical town road is 18 to 20 feet wide with a 66-foot right-of-way. That means the right-of-way usually extends about 23 feet from the edge of the pavement.
Klein said the “abutting road right-of-way” is the line between a person’s property and the road’s right-of-way.
“The sign should be located within 10 feet plus or minus from that line,” Klein said.
Fire signs would need to be relocated at least 13 feet from the edge of the road.
Those that are placed too close to the road will need to be moved.
“Once the signs are placed by the town, it is the property owners’ responsibility to maintain them and keep them visible,” Klein said, noting that the town would be notifying residents that they need to move their fire signs.
Ellis questioned the feasibility of moving 1,700 fire signs throughout the township.
He said moving the fire signs will result in more trees and shrubbery being cleared along Dayton’s roads.
“The ordinance is too vague, so he is able to jump on that,” Ellis said.
Steingraber said fire numbers placed too close to the road causes obstructions for the county’s road maintenance crews.
“If there’s an obstruction here or there, we have to pick up the wing when we’re plowing the snow,” Steingraber said. “That causes the snow to pile up in front of the sign, which kind of defeats the purpose of the sign.”
Jon Porrey, with Gold Cross Ambulance, said the fire signs that were installed several years ago were a marked improvement over the previous signs.
“The older signs were set farther back from the road,” Porrey said. “These new signs were set up so that you could see them as you were coming at them.”
Porrey said clearing vegetation away from the fire signs is important for ambulance drivers who are searching for a home.
“The bottom line is that it would be much better if the signs stayed where they are,” Porrey said. “If the signs are moved back, we might have to slow down and use our spotlights to see them.”
Obeying the law
Town officials who are advocating the relocation of stop signs and fire numbers say they are following the law.
“If the signs are in the wrong place and we know they’re in the wrong place, then we have an obligation to put them in the right place,” Suhs said. “I understand and respect people’s opinions, but they’re putting town officials in a tough spot. We take an oath of office. We can’t pick and choose what laws to follow.”
“As an elected official, it’s my duty to follow the statutes of the state of Wisconsin and also any applicable Waupaca County ordinances,” Klein said. “I try to do that to the best of my abilities.”
Suhs defended the authority of Dayton’s elected officials to make decisions regarding the interpretation of the law and the safety of town roads.
“These people want to determine all these things and it’s not for them to determine,” Suhs said. “They are not the ones who will be sued in a court of law if someone is killed because a tree branch obstructed a stop sign.”
Suhs said the decision on whether or not to cut down a tree should be made between the town and the landowner, and not by a committee.
Hebbring noted that past experience has demonstrated that the town is not interested in what property owners have to say about their trees.
He pointed to several roads in Dayton where the landowners were only notified shortly before the men with chain saws had arrived.
“They are elected officials. If we do not agree with how they are working for us, why can’t we question them?” Hebbring asked.