Sign maintenance: questions and answers
Last year’s Minnesota Association of Townships (MAT) Summer Short Courses included a workshop presentation about traffic sign maintenance and management. The instructor was Ken Schroepfer, retired MnDOT sign expert and instructor for Minnesota LTAP’s Traffic Sign Maintenance/ Management and Sign Retroreflectivity course. Here are some highlights from his workshop.
Am I required to have a sign management plan? Are there sample plans for guidance?
All public road authorities (township, city, county, and state) are required to have a plan or policy on how they intend to take care of the signs on their roadways. The first step is to make an inventory of your signs. Then, create an assessment or management plan that will work for you. Use the sample plans found on the MnDOT State Aid website—there are samples for townships, cities, rural counties, and metro counties. The plans also serve as a general guide for complying with traffic sign retroreflectivity requirements.
Where can I learn about retroreflectivity requirements?
A Federal Highway Administration mandate, effective June 2014, requires all highway agencies to establish a sign assessment or management method that assures sign retroreflectivity levels are at or above minimum levels required in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). In September of that year the Minnesota LRRB published the Sign Retroreflectivity Toolkit to provide local governments, especially small cities and townships, with guidance on the requirement as well as resources they can use to meet this requirement.
What signs should we replace first?
You should replace the most important signs first. Here is a simple list of signs from the most to the least important:
- Regulatory signs (red and white, and black and white, signs) in the following order: STOP signs; warning signs (black and yellow signs) in this order – STOP Ahead, YIELD Ahead, curve warning signs, and chevron signs; and then other warning signs (cattle crossing, farm equipment, bridge clearance, etc.).
- Other signs such as culvert markers and street name signs.
What about the signs at railroad crossings?
At a railroad crossing, the railroad is responsible for the black and white “Railroad Crossing” sign and anything else on that structure. It is also responsible for the STOP sign and the sign post. The township, city, county, or state would be responsible for each “Railroad Crossing” advance warning sign placed on their roadway. This advance warning sign is required on each approach to a railroad crossing.
How do I know what size sign posts I have holding up my road signs?
Most of you probably have “U” posts. Their size (2.5, 3, or 4 pound) is actually a description of their weight per foot. So, a 3-pound post 8 feet long would weigh 24 pounds. A round or square metal post is sized based on the diameter of the post.
If you are unsure what size “U” posts are out along your roadway, there is a simple solution. Look around your maintenance yard for some extra or scrap “U” posts lying around. Weigh one of them, dividing its weight by its length (assuming that it is of an even foot length). What you want to find is a 3-pound “U” post. Then cut a piece 2- to 6-inches long from the 3-pound “U” post. Label it “3 pound” and carry it in your truck when you go out to look at your signs and sign structures. Compare the design/ shape of the sample against any posts placed in the ground. If the in-ground post is larger than your sample, it is a 4-pound post.
Anytime you find a 4-pound post stuck in the ground along your roadway, remove it and replace it if necessary with a 3-pound post. Four-pound posts do not meet current MnDOT crash testing. Section 2A.19 of the current MMUTCD states:
"Post-mounted sign and object marker supports shall be crashworthy (breakaway, yielding, or shielded with a longitudinal barrier or crash cushion) if within the clear zone. There is a compliance date of January 17, 2013 which applies to those roads with posted or statutory speed limits 50 mph and greater. All other roads with speed limits less than 50 mph are to comply through attrition (as signs and structures are repaired/ replaced)."
One of our local owners wants us to put “Watch for Children” signs on our township road because their children like to cross the road to visit grandparents. We really don’t want to put up any more signs than we have to. What do you suggest?
You are correct to discourage the use of “Watch for Children” signs. They tend to give a false sense of security to children and parents. Just because a sign such as this is installed along the roadway doesn’t mean that a motorist will necessarily see the sign nor does it mean that parents or children should just walk out onto the roadway without looking both ways for oncoming vehicles.
If there are several homes clustered together in a rural area, this area could be called a residential district. As such, it would then qualify for 35 mph speed limit signs as drivers enter into the area. In this situation, the township supervisor should request the county engineer review the situation before the town board approves the installation of the 35 mph signs on each approach to the residential district. You also must install “End 35 MPH Speed Limit” signs as the motorists leave this residential district.
(Adapted with permission from the Minnesota Township Insider, summer 2017)
- Minnesota’s Best Practices for Traffic Sign Maintenance/Management Handbook (MnDOT, 2014RIC20)
- Sign Life-Cycle Policies and Practices (LRRB/ MnDOT, TRS 1707, Oct. 2017)