Last remaining highway with metric signs may convert to miles

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 10/10/2014

Converting kilometers to miles can be a quite a chore. For drivers traveling along Interstate 19 in Arizona, that hassle can come to an end. The Arizona Department of Transportation is considering replacing the only highway signs left in the United States using the metric system exclusively. The new signs may use miles instead.

Across the 63-mile stretch of highway in Arizona, drivers may notice the signs are marked in kilometers rather than miles. Due to the intense Arizona heat, these signs are aging and need to be replaced. The question is does ADOT abandon the metric system?

“These signs are reaching near the end of their life cycle, so we are going to be taking a closer look at replacing them and finding out from the public what’s the preference,” ADOT spokesperson Dustin Krugel told Land Line. “Do people prefer to have the kilometers or the mileage measurement or maybe some kind of combination?”

Dating back to the Jimmy Carter administration, the federal government tried to implement the idea of converting to the metric system, Krugel explained. In 1979, the Federal Highway Administration tagged the 63-mile long (101 km) I-19 as the testing grounds for metric highway signs. There are still metric signs left over from the Carter and Clinton administrations, but they contain both the metric and English units of measurement.

“I-19 is the only highway quarter in the U.S. to have metric signs throughout the entire highway length,” Krugel noted.

With Congress acting sluggishly to get a long-term Highway Trust Fund in motion, the replacement signs may not happen anytime soon.

When asked when drivers can expect new signs, Krugel replied, “Right now no decision has been made because we do not have funding to replace the signs.”

Once funding is in place, public opinion will be considered when deciding what to do with the new signs. ADOT gets the ultimate decision, but the preference of the people could sway which way they go.

“Some would think that the mileage signs are their preference. They think the metric signs are confusing,” Krugel said. “But then there are a lot of people who believe that the metric signs make that area unique, and they would like to keep part of that history.”

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