Bilingual street sign bill advances

Highway signs in both French and English could become more common in south Louisiana under a bill approved Monday by a House committee.

House Bill 415 would allow parish governments to request bilingual signs when state officials plan to replace them.

It cleared the House Transportation Committee and faces action by the full House.

State Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro, sponsor of the plan, said it is meant in part to honor the generation of his grandparents and others who years ago were punished in school “for speaking their first language.”

Signs in that language — usually French — represent “a validation of that person,” Ortego told the panel.

Ortego said the new signs also would appeal to travelers.

“People come to Louisiana expecting something different,” he said.

State Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, said he has concerns about the bill at a time when the state Department of Transportation and Development has a backlog of requests, mostly for improved roads.

“Our infrastructure is crumbling,” Landry said.

The state faces a $12.1 billion backlog of road and bridge needs.

Landry said he has never been asked by constituents about bilingual signs but is often asked when a bumpy road will be blacktopped.

The bill would allow parish authorities to request the signs along state and federal roads in their boundaries.

Local officials would be responsible for replacement costs if they sought new signs at a time other than when the state would have routinely replaced them.

Ortego said he thinks such requests will be rare because of cost concerns.

“The intent is to only change the sign if it is being changed,” he said. If bilingual signs costs more for production or installation than the previous ones, parish officials will be required to pay the difference.

Ortego said in the southeastern Canadian province of New Brunswick, highway signs have been made bilingual over a decade or so for the roughly one-third of Acadian residents there.