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Maryland upgrading highway signs

The Maryland State Highway Administration has launched the second phase of its program to add travel time information to its overhead message boards.

The program, launched in January on Interstate 95 north of Washington, has expanded to Maryland's other interstates, including the Capital Beltway and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. The signs display estimated driving time to major roadways.

Here's the location of the 23 variable-message boards added to the system:
-- Seven along I-495/I-95 between I-95 and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge (the eastern side of the Capital Beltway).
-- Eight along I-95 between I-695 and I-495 (the Baltimore and Washington Beltways).
-- Six along the Baltimore Beltway from Essex through Towson and into Catonsville.
-- Two along the BW Parkway between I-695 and I-195. (That's a portion of the parkway controlled by Maryland, rather than the National Park Service.)

This summer, the travel information will be added to signs along I-83, I-270 and I-795. The system uses travel time information from GPS transponders in company fleet vehicles. The data is available to motorists between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. seven days a week.

Before leaving home or work, drivers can find the same travel time information on the State Highway Administration Web site. The travel time messages are automatically removed from the overhead signs if there's an accident or other event that has closed lanes.

By Robert Thomson  |  March 8, 2010; 4:42 PM ET
Categories:  Commuting , Driving , highways  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Maryland State Highway Administration  
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Sure Maryland. Go ahead with these new signs. You have plenty of money to spend.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | March 8, 2010 9:36 PM | Report abuse

The signs are already there. They just need to be turned on.

Posted by: thetan | March 8, 2010 10:13 PM | Report abuse

Exactly. The signs have been there for years, hence this article's statement that the program is "to add travel time information to its overhead message boards", not add message boards. Waterfrontproperty seems to be very up-to-date, doesn't it/he/she?

Posted by: crzytwnman | March 8, 2010 10:48 PM | Report abuse

Will the signs deliver messages in English, or Spanish?

With all the ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS who are driving on Maryland Highways (Legal & Illegal drivers) its a question that needs to be asked.

Posted by: Robbnitafl | March 9, 2010 12:40 AM | Report abuse

I noted the travel time signs on I-95 on the way home from a Hershey Bears game last month. I thought the idea of listing BOTH time to the Beltway AND distance to the Beltway made a lot of sense because travel time is meaningless in a vacuum unless you happen to know that the I-95/Beltway interchange in Maryland is at milepost 27 (and you happen to have noted your current location). Giving both pieces of information allows anyone to determine whether traffic is moving at a reasonable pace.

I really don't understand the opposition to this project that we've seen from some people. Maybe it works well, maybe it doesn't, but how is anyone to know whether it will work well if they don't try it? If they try it and it doesn't work, then they just stop posting it, no harm done.

I'd much rather see travel time info than stuff like "Report Suspicious Activity" or "Sign Test" or random gibberish characters, that's for sure.

Posted by: 1995hoo | March 9, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

According to Federal regulations, all sign messages shall be in English. The only exceptions (technically not allowed, but Feds look the other way) are near international borders. Thus, you may see limited Spanish signs near the Mexican border, and limited French signs near the Canadian border.

Posted by: thetan | March 9, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

thetan, I know I could look it up myself, but it's probably faster to ask you: Does the regulation say that the signs shall be EXCLUSIVELY in English? If not, then the signs near the borders (such as the "Exit/Sortie" signs on I-87 in Clinton County, or the sign on I-91 near Derby Line that says "Right Lane/Voie Droit" for an exit) technically don't violate the regulation because a bilingual sign is in fact in English.

In a broader context, though, Robbnitafl does make a legitimate point about overreliance on English words on many highway signs where international symbols could probably be equally effective. The Europeans are ahead of us on that front because they always had good reason for developing symbol-based signs, whereas in the US we didn't (far fewer people driving in from other countries, and people doing so who speak other languages predominantly speak French or Spanish, as opposed to the much larger language quilt in Europe). Due to increased immigration (regardless of the individuals' legal or illegal status) we arguably have far more people on the roads for whom English signs pose an issue, so I wonder to what extent our signs need to evolve. (While it's easy to say "they need to learn to speak English," and while I tend to agree with that sentiment, I note that the DMV doesn't require that you be able to read and speak English to get a driver's license.)

Posted by: 1995hoo | March 9, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Kudos to SHA for moving ahead with this, it will be a great help. Any reason for not including the Montgomery Co. Beltway (it says just the eastern side right now), aside from the fact that the boards only have room for 6 digits when showing the Friday afternoon travel time from the Legion Bridge around to Georgia Avenue?

Posted by: vtavgjoe | March 9, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Actually, upon further inspection of the MUTCD, it is not stated anywhere that the signs must be in English. The only references to the word "English" refer to English units (vs. Metric/S.I. units). So I guess technically, signs in foreign languages are allowed, but generally not used.

I was basing my original thoughts on a debate at a transportation conference technical committee meeting a few years ago, where someone asked about allowing non-English legends on signs, and the "NO THEY SHOULD LEARN ENGLISH" crowd shot that discussion down immediately (a lot of the committee members come from Red states).

I too agree that Europe is light-years ahead of us in terms of symbols instead of words on signs, but that is mostly out of necessity, as the original "EU-15" speak 12 different primary languages. The only non-European foreign country I've travelled in extensively is Canada, and their symbol signs are mostly to prevent having to give priority to French vs. English.

Here in the USA, any and all symbol signs go through extensive human factors testing (driving simulators) at research agencies such as TTI or Turner Fairbank (in McLean). Many signs have "switched over" to symbol signs in recent years, but there are some signs that are much simpler to just state in words, and the human factors testing backs it up (just because Europe uses it doesn't mean we shouldn't test it to see if its the best sign for the USA). For example..."No Littering, $500 fine" is pretty straightforward, at least more so than a red circle with a slash surrounding an open beverage can and then a gavel next to $500. if "it aint broke".....

Reminds me of a joke I once heard. "When someone speaks two languages, they are bi-lingual, when someone speaks three languages, they are what do you call someone who only speaks one language?" "American."

Posted by: thetan | March 9, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

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