Intermunicipal Cooperation to Improve Rural Sign Safety

Intern Lawrence Lin

In the summer of 2011, the NYSLTAP - Cornell Local Roads Program hired a student intern to work with three County Highway Departments in western New York to determine how to best share a retroreflectometer as part of meeting the new standards on sign retroreflectivity. This sharing program needed to include all three Counties as well as local jurisdictions in the respective counties (Towns, Villages and one City).

The project examined the current status and capability of the various municipalities in inventory, inspection, and management of the signs currently along each highway and developed a simple tool to help field crews meet the new retroreflectivity standard while sharing a single retroreflectometer.

Most of these local agencies had a sign inventory, but the quality varied quite a bit. The purchase of signs and materials was mostly done in coordination with the County Highway Departments. We found that these agencies were all using sign materials that meet the new retroreflectivity and crashworthy standards. However, inspections were not consistent and most smaller agencies had no comprehensive plan for testing sign retroreflectivity. Even among the Counties, there was not a clear systematic approach in every case. Part of the issue is manpower and budget. While Counties had dedicated personnel focused on signs, the amount of work was greater than their capacity to systematically monitor installed signs. The situation for the Towns and Villages was even worse, as signs are done by field crews as part of other duties and checking signs are sometimes given a lower priority. However, every municipality had a response time of less than 24 hours of notification of a missing or fallen sign of importance. While all agencies had some awareness of the new sign regulations, there is still a large need for training in many agencies. Some towns expressed the desire for a County takeover of sign installation and maintenance, but liability and resources are barriers to this happening.

In order to help agencies with their inspection programs, a total of 50 inexpensive sign inspection kits were prepared with a total cost of less than $50 each for the parts. Each County received ten kits, while Cornell provided most of the remaining kits to other Counties around New York State. These kits can be used to quickly confirm the level of retroreflectivity of signs in the field that have been identified as being questionable.

Sharing a retroreflectometer between agencies is very feasible, but there are certain ground rules that should be included in any sharing agreement:

  1. No matter how the retroreflectometer is purchased, one agency should be the official owner.
  2. If a sign comparison panel method is used, only the agencies with dedicated sign personnel should be using the retroreflectometer.

Transparency Film Comparison Panels