What a beautiful time of the year to be driving Virginia’s highways, especially in the mountains, as I was doing yesterday on Interstate 64 near Charlottesville. As always, I notice signs everywhere I go, and so do you, but you probably just don’t realize it because you’re not a sign blogger like me! But if you own or manage a business, or are a customer out there looking for a store or hospital ER or church, or place to stay the night, or place to eat, or…the list goes on and on…then signage and its marketing value become important, and you are probably interested in it more than you know.
Most of the time I write about bright, custom electric signs that light up business names all over Virginia, but this time, I am answering a question I’ve had for years: “How do highway signs calculate the mileage to the cities listed?” I became determined to see just how they come up with the posted mileages to cities. Is it to the city limits, some point in the center of town, or some other point? And also, is the distance measured from the sign location to that point, or from the point back from where you first see the sign?
So I called the Director of Communications for VDOT for answers. The Director was out, but the Assistant Director, Shannon Marshall, was very eager to help. She said VDOT follows the federal Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), as published by the Federal Highway Administration, that states: “The distance displayed should be selected on a case-by-case basis by the jurisdiction that owns the road or by statewide policy. A well-defined central area or central business district should be used where one exists. In other cases, the layout of the community should be considered in relation to the highway being signed and the decision based on where it appears that most drivers would feel that they are in the center of the community in question.”
She said, for instance, a courthouse or other central landmark may be used as the measuring point for distance. The rule is to round to the nearest mile.
So I googled “MUTCD” and read Section 2D.41-42 about “Distance Signs” and found this statement and some other interesting facts about the sign design criteria of our highway distance signs:
- Distance Signs shall be a horizontal rectangle of a size appropriate for the required legend, carrying the names of no more than three cities, towns, junctions, or other traffic generators.
- The distance numerals shall be placed to the right of the destination names.
- The distance displayed should be selected on a case-by-case basis by the jurisdiction that owns the road or by statewide policy. A well-defined central area or central business district should be used where one exists. In other cases, the layout of the community should be considered in relation to the highway being signed and the decision based on where it appears that most drivers would feel that they are in the center of the community in question.
- The top name on the Distance Sign should be that of the next place on the route having a post office or a railroad station, a route number or name of an intersected highway, or any other significant geographical identity. The bottom name on the sign should be that of the next major destination or control city. If three destinations are displayed, the middle line should be used to indicate communities of general interest along the route or important route junctions.
- The choice of names for the middle line may be varied on successive Distance Signs to give road users additional information concerning communities served by the route.
- The control city should remain the same on all successive Distance Signs throughout the length of the route until that city is reached.
- If more than one distant point may properly be designated, such as where the route divides at some distance ahead to serve two destinations of similar importance, and if these two destinations cannot appear on the same sign, the two names may be alternated on successive signs.
- On a route continuing into another State, destinations in the adjacent State may be displayed.
- If used, Distance Signs should be installed on important routes leaving municipalities and just beyond intersections of numbered routes in rural areas. If used, they should be placed just outside the municipal limits or at the edge of the built-up area if it extends beyond the limits.
- Where overlapping routes separate a short distance from the municipal limits, the Distance Sign at the municipal limits should be omitted. The Distance Sign should be installed approximately 300 feet beyond the separation of the two routes.
- Where, just outside of an incorporated municipality, two routes are concurrent and continue concurrently to the next incorporated municipality, the top name on the Distance Sign should be that of the place where the routes separate; the bottom name should be that of the city to which the greater part of the through traffic is destined.
I forgot to ask Shannon about where they begin measuring mileage from, but I would imagine it is at the spot at the base of the sign and not from where you first see it. So remember that when your child asks for the tenth time how much farther the trip is, it may be just a little bit farther than he can understand!
(Holiday Signs makes quality signage for basically any organization in need: Custom Electric Signs for hotels, restaurants, inns, amusement parks, convention centers, theaters, banks, credit unions, insurance agencies, car dealers, grocery stores, retail stores, shopping centers, office buildings, high-rise buildings, churches, hospitals, medical centers, schools, colleges, museums, and the list goes on!)
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