Our View: Common Sense Heads For The Exit

Opinion

Have you ever been driving down Route 6 and found yourself utterly confused about the distance to the next exit?

Neither have we.

A state plan to renumber the exits on most numbered highways in Massachusetts is on its way. Perhaps before this fall, the familiar exit numbers on Route 6 will be changing to conform with a federal plan that references an exit’s milepost location, rather than its sequence. Getting off at Exit 10 will mean watching for the “Exit 82” sign. Goodbye Exit 11, Hello Exit 89. You get the picture.

The new system is supposed to be easier for drivers, who can calculate distances more easily than before, according to federal agencies. It is also said to improve reporting of highway incidents, getting help where it’s needed more quickly. The system brings Massachusetts into conformity with most other states, and allows highway planners to add new exits without renumbering the whole road.

Perhaps this system makes sense in areas with wide-open spaces and few interchanges. But on Cape Cod, it seems a lot like change for the sake of change. Problem is, it comes with costs.

Today’s motorists use GPS to show their location and to highlight their next turn. Exit numbers are a lot less critical than they were in of folded-up maps from the glove box. And for those businesses that still print those exit numbers on promotional brochures or rack cards, there won’t be much time to make those changes before the signs are swapped later this year.

When a traffic accident happens on the highway, first responders are typically called to a particular mile marker, which brings them right to the location in question. Even if the motorist in trouble reports his location using the new numbers, it won’t provide a location that’s more precise than the mile marker. Or, at least here on the Cape, than the current exist numbers, which emergency personnel know well. So the public safety benefit of the plan seems unlikely.

And then there’s those signs—dozens and dozens of them on Cape Cod alone—that need to be changed and swapped out. That’s a significant public works project that will cost an estimated $2.8 million statewide. It’s true that Massachusetts only pays 10 percent of that cost, but the rest comes from the federal government. It all comes from our taxes.

Sometimes, public works projects have such a clear benefit that they’re worth the cost to taxpayers, the inconvenience to motorists and the potential harm to businesses. But this isn’t one of those times.