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Gainesville changes Deshaun Watson Way street sign to green
Background color is changed from red to green to comply with federal highway standards
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The Deshaun Watson Way signs on the Gainesville High School campus remain red. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Gainesville city officials recently put up a green Deshaun Watson Way street sign after they were notified by the Federal Highway Administration that a red sign at Pearl Nix Parkway did not comply with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

Mayor Danny Dunagan said Tuesday the sign had been changed and declared the issue dead, but added he still did not agree with the way FHWA officials handled the situation.

Dunagan and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, issued statements Thursday criticizing the federal agency for communicating to the city that failure to comply with the MUTCD “jeopardizes the future use of federal funding.” Dunagan and Collins considered that a threat and an inappropriate way to handle the matter.

FHWA spokeswoman Nancy Singer told The Times on Tuesday the agency never communicated directly with the city, but rather with Georgia Department of Transportation officials.

“It was their (GDOT) responsibility to communicate to the city,” Singer said.

As for the perceived threat by the city that future funding could be withheld, Singer called it “standard communication” in which the agency lays out all of the regulations related to the MUTCD.

“Only in extreme situations would federal funding be withheld,” Singer said.

Singer reiterated that the standard communication simply reminded the city of the rules established in the MUTCD.

Dunagan remained critical of the way FHWA handled the situation.

“If that’s the way they do it, they should change it,” the mayor said. “There’s a right way and a wrong way of doing things. The Federal Highway Administration is going about it the wrong way, and that’s my opinion.”

The email that sparked the controversy was sent by FHWA engineer Greg Morris to Georgia DOT officials. The Times obtained a copy of the email dated March 3 with the subject line — “Red Street Name Sign-Gainesville.”

Morris references the change in the name of the street sign from Touchdown Drive to Deshaun Watson Way — in honor of the former Gainesville High School football star who led Clemson University to the national title against Alabama in January. The official said the agency’s concern was not with the name, but rather the red background.

“The MUTCD Section 2A.10 and Table 2A-5 specifies the color of highway signs,” Morris wrote. “Street name signs are to have a green background …”

Although Morris indicated that MUTCD regulations allow for alternative background colors, he said “red is not one of the acceptable colors.”

It was the email’s reference to funding that caught the attention of city officials.

“Please have the city remove the non-compliant signs as soon as possible,” Morris wrote. “Failure to comply with the MUTCD jeopardizes the future use of federal funding.”

City Manager Bryan Lackey said the street sign was changed sometime last week, but he was not sure whether the city notified Georgia DOT.

Dunagan said two other Deshaun Watson Way signs with the red background were not taken down because they are on school property.