The Traffic Sign Lifecycle Management Process

RoadVista 922 Retroreflectometer
MUTCD Retro Rule Cover

Starting with the publishing of the 2009 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) agencies have been scrambling to understand what they need to do to be compliant with the rules governing retroreflectivity minimums of their traffic signs in use.

Simply put, the retroreflectivity requirements state that every agency with signs under their jurisdiction is required to implement an assessment or management method designed to maintain sign retroreflectivity at or above the established minimum levels.

Recent changes passed on May 14, 2012 adjusted the compliance date for this mandate to May 2014 to have a program in place that covers at minimum regulatory and warning signs by the new compliance date. While the new MUTCD compliance date does not require inclusion or replacement of other signs by a particular date, the FHWA has instructed agencies to add other sign types to their selected management method as resources and competing priorities allow.

This excerpt is taken from Learn How to be MUTCD Retro Rule Compliant Without Busting Your Budget, for additional information download the free MUTCD Compliance eBook from Professional Pavement Products.

Regardless of the established compliance date, agencies are still liable for all signs under their jurisdiction that do not meet minimums should a tort liability situation arise. Being protected in that instance is the main driver for agency compliance, however, Federal and State funding could also be affected down the road if a sign monitoring program is not in place.

RoadVista 922 Retroreflectometer

Overview of the Sign Lifecycle Management Process

The bottom line is that the MUTCD calls for a sign maintenance program that addresses retroreflectivity. It is not enough to do a one-off project where you purchase a retroreflectometer and send your crew out to measure every sign in the field and then the unit sits on a shelf for the next five years. You will quickly have signs fall out of compliance if you do that. The data collected should be incorporated into either an existing asset management program or used to create one that will help formulate annual budgets for sign replacements and schedule periodic re-assessment of signs in the field.

Out of 498 agencies surveyed between January 2011 and April 2012, a mere 47.9% of agencies reported utilizing full blown GIS software systems to manage their traffic sign assets. An agency with over 10,000 signs under their jurisdiction is 17.8% more likely to utilize a GIS system than smaller agencies.

While utilizing a GIS system to manage the sign lifecycle process is convenient it is not entirely necessary, especially for smaller agencies, as long as the proper process and procedures are in place.

Initial Data Collection

The initial data collection process is the most time intensive aspect of becoming compliant with the retroreflectivity aspect of the MUTCD. Sign inspections as part of a Pilot or Feasibility Study will take significantly longer, likely 2-3 times longer, than they will once all the kinks in the process have been worked out.

Agencies who have an existing GIS system that incorporates signs for work orders and inventory management, typically already have sign attributes collected in their systems and simply are looking to add retroreflectivity measurements to their existing databases to be incorporated in reports for budgeting and maintenance decisions. Such agencies normally will make short order of adding retroreflectivity to their program and may even contract a third party to do the initial inventory readings to add them to their systems for future management.

An agency without a formal sign asset system in place should take the extra time to collect additional sign attributes such as the GPS location, sheeting type, size, MUTCD sign code or sign type description, direction facing, mounting specifics, and others as well as the signs’ retroreflectivity measurements to make monitoring the inventory for performance a much easier task.

Post Processing

After the initial data collection of taking measurements for signs in the field there is a certain level of post processing that must take place. For agencies with an existing sign asset program in place this is typically a matter of preparing the data for upload. For agencies just getting started, this is the step in which they marry the data gathered with the retroreflectometer to other sign attributes collected.

Putting the Data to Work

The next step is to create an initial action plan and start putting the data to work. The data collected from the physical inspections and retroreflectivity measurements should be used to identify high priorities for sign repair and replacement. Upon repair or replacement, the inventory would need to be updated. Retroreflectivity measurements of signs without issue will allow for creating work plans and scheduling periodic re-assessment for signs as they near the minimums set forth in the MUTCD.

Understanding Your Needs

Before selecting a retroreflectometer, agencies should have a firm grasp of what other information they plan to collect during their initial and subsequent inspections. The ease of use of the retroreflectometer itself to easily collect and reconcile sign data points can greatly impact the success of the implementation and periodic assessments.

Ask yourself these questions:
  • Do you need a full inventory or just appending your GIS with retroreflectivity readings?
  • What is missing? What do you not already know about your signs in the field?
  • Do you already utilize barcodes or will they need to enter a stencil/sticker asset ID?
  • Do your workers need the ability to add custom comments or select preprogrammed comments? Or will a notepad suffice? Who will data enter handwritten notes?
  • Will they need laptops? Trimble units? Cameras?

Retroreflectometers from RoadVista

StripeMaster 2 Touch Retroreflectometer

For additional information on retroreflectivity and highway safety download the RoadVista Retroreflectivity Guidebook

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