The in basket; Last autumn I found myself driving a rental car in Virginia, and saw something that made a lot of sense, but that I’d never seen before.
Rather than a milepost marker every mile, there was one every tenth of a mile. I’d always wondered what chance a motorist has of knowing where he is on an unfamiliar highway when reporting an accident or hazard or calling for assistance, when he’d have to walk one way or the other for up to a mile if he guessed wrong before he came to one.
I finally decided to call Virginia to learn their origin and checked on line, too.
The out basket: It turns out mileposts are officially called “reference location signs” if a mile apart, and “intermediate reference location signs” if they are separated by tenths of a mile. Some include the word “enhanced” if they also show direction and route number.
It seems to be an East Coast thing. Virginia has posted intermediate reference location signs along most of its Interstate network in recent years. There are also online comments about them being in Maine, Delaware and Pennsylvania. A lot of the comment wonders about whether they’re worth the money.
Jason Bond of the Virginia Department of Transportation tells me, “In Virginia, there are intermediate mile markers (one-tenth or two-tenth spacing) on Interstate 81 and Interstate 95, the two major north-south interstates. There are also intermediate mile markers on portions of I-66.
“In 2004, VDOT installed the state’s first tenth-mile markers on I-81 which is located in the western part of the state and extends 325 miles from Tennessee to West Virginia.
“In 2005, some two-tenth mile markers were installed as a pilot on segments of I-95, I-64 and I-195.
“The intermediate mile markers were intended to improve safety for stranded motorists, especially those unfamiliar with the area in which they are traveling, by improving their ability to identify their location for assistance.
“The markers were also installed to help VDOT personnel make better estimates of traffic backups and pinpoint work zone locations,” he said.
“Given the expansion of cell phones usage and GPS navigation, VDOT decided not to install immediate mile marker signs on systemwide basis. VDOT now only considers installing two-tenth or one-tenth mile markers at interstate locations to address specific operations or safety issues,” Jason concluded.
I don’t know if they’ve been tried anywhere west of the Mississippi. I’d not seen any in the western states.