Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Highway Signs


Talking Transportation”

By Jim Cameron

Author: “Off The Record: Confessions of a Media Consultant

“Are we there yet Dad?” cried Junior from the back seat.  “Only two more exits to go, Son” said the Father, scanning the roadway ahead of him.  Many miles later, Junior was moaning again.  “You said two more exits, not dozens of miles!”

Well, Junior, that’s about to change.  CDOT (Connecticut Department of Transportation), pressured by the Feds, is about to renumber all of the exits on the Merritt & Wilbur Cross Parkways and our interstate highways.  No longer will the exits be numbered sequentially but, instead, will reflect their mileage from the NY state line.

This scheme has long been in place on the Garden State Parkway, giving motorists a better sense of their distance to a desired exit.  Mileage-based exit numbers also help first responders find an incident’s location.  Moreover, because this renumbering is being done nationwide, it will add uniformity to all signage.

The Parkways’ sign conversions will take place next year followed by renumbering on I-91 (in 2027), I-84 (2028) and I-95 (2029).  When the new exit number signs are in place there will be a smaller sign attached to each indicating the “old” exit number, at least for a couple of years to help drivers adjust.

CDOT is also working with GPS app providers like Google and Waze to get their maps reprogrammed.  All of this work is being paid for with federal money and the work will only take a couple of weeks to be completed on each highway.

Meanwhile, Uncle Sam seems to have lost his sense of humor about changeable interstate traffic safety signs, like the one I saw recently in New Jersey:

“Texting while driving?  Fuhgetaboutit!”   Or “Get your head out of your apps”  …  “Hands on the wheel, not your meal”… and for our Boston accent fans:  “Use Your Blinkahs!”

Funny?  Attention getting? Or just confusing?  The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) says too often these signs are just distracting so they’re encouraging states to keep it simple and serious.

But when their rule making was announced there was serious blowback.  In Arizona they’ve actually held contests for the best sign-messaging and received thousands of entries.

Among last year’s winners:  “I’m Just a Sign Asking a Driver to Use Turn Signals”, a rather obscure reference to the 1999 movie “Notting Hill”.  Didn’t ‘get it’?  Neither did I, which is exactly the Feds’ point.  While you’re scratching your head about some weird pop culture reference are you really watching the road?

After the recent public outcry, the FHA quickly clarified their rules: a little humor is OK as long as the sign’s intent is clear and the wording concise.

The CDOT seems sober enough in its signage, aside from an occasional congratulatory sign for a winning UConn championship, as if I could care.  And so far there’s been no repeat of the incident awhile back when a hacker took control of a portable variable message sign and changed it to read “Weicker blows”.  The then-Governor and the CDOT were not amused.

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. His weekly column “Talking Transportation” is archived here.  You can contact Jim at [email protected].”


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