New Orleans City Council President Stacy Head sent out an email this afternoon reminding the community that all it takes is a simple phone call to 311 to report missing or damaged street signs. The text of the email is below.
New Orleans, LA…. Councilmember Head frequently hears from residents that street name and traffic signs are missing in neighborhoods throughout the city. Fortunately, the City’s Sign Shop (Department of Public Works) is hard at work replacing missing traffic and street name signs and in many cases, can replace a reported missing sign within days.
Residents are encouraged to report missing and/or damaged street signs by calling 311 with the exact location and type of sign needed.
Upon receiving this email, I remembered that I dug into the operations of the New Orleans Sign Shop back in 2012. A brief summary of my thoughts is that the city should privatize the shop. While privatization certainly wouldn’t generate a huge windfall for the city budget, it would certainly create an easy source of savings for the future. Hopefully one day this common sense idea can gain some traction in a City Hall serious about cutting costs.
Were it not for GPS I would probably get lost driving around New Orleans quite frequently. The network of street signs in this city is deplorable! However, instead of just complaining about it, I did some research into how it could be better.
The Traffic Division of the Office Of Public Works is responsible for maintaining city traffic signs and lights. This entire division has 11 employees. They have an annual budget of around $1,800,000. That amount is only 10% of the total public works budget and only 0.36% of the total General Fund of the city of New Orleans. Based on 2010 Census figures, that works out to $5.25/year that is paid per resident of New Orleans to finance this aspect of the city. How many other things in life do you pay just $5.25 a year for that affect most people daily?
I bring up all these numbers for one reason. The city of New Orleans should issue a request for proposals to interested companies to take over maintenance and installation of traffic signs and lights from the city.
Other U.S. cities have already done this, notably, New York City, so it’s not like this is a revolutionary idea. The two biggest arguments in favor of this are cost and accountability.
The private company managing this will undoubtedly have lower labor costs mostly due to using private health insurance for their employees (if they choose to provide it) and 401k retirement accounts instead of high cost public employee pensions. Second, this aspect of daily life will finally have accountability on its side. The city can write into the contract a clause that allows the contract to not be renewed if the company isn’t performing to the public’s satisfaction.
So, what we have here is a win-win. Taxpayers pay less for better service and new jobs would most likely be created (I am not aware of an existing company that could absorb the increase of work here without adding staff). To prevent job losses by privatizing this function of Public Works, existing city employees can be shifted to other vacancies or apply to join the new company.
Ideally, not only will this lead to all streets being clearly and properly marked but this also opens up New Orleans street signage and lighting to innovation. Can you imagine a world where major thoroughfares have all traffic lights synchronized? How many of you would benefit from that? Here’s hoping to a future of New Orleans drivers not spent slowing at an unfamiliar intersection searching frantically for a street sign.