Are big electronic signs a waste of money?

The in basket: After I mused a while back that warning of ice on the pavement on cold winter mornings would be a worthwhile function for the underused electronic roadside sign on the big pedestal just north of Austin Drive on Highway 3, Vivian Henderson asked “how much did each of those signs costs taxpayers?
“When I pass them – there must be four or five in Kitsap County – and they are messageless (and most of the time they are blank), I see $$$$ signs all over them. What a rip off for taxpayers.”


The in basket: After I mused a while back that warning of ice on the pavement on cold winter mornings would be a worthwhile function for the underused electronic roadside sign on the big pedestal just north of Austin Drive on Highway 3, Vivian Henderson asked “how much did each of those signs costs taxpayers?
“When I pass them – there must be four or five in Kitsap County – and they are messageless (and most of the time they are blank), I see $$$$ signs all over them. What a rip off for taxpayers.”
The out basket: I share Vivian’s perception, based mostly on very limited observation of the Austin Drive sign, I admit. It seems to me not to have much to say about anything happening in Kitsap County on the rare instances it is lit.
Chris Keegan, Don Anders and Hal Weiblen of the state transportation department provided answers about the signs.
Chris and Don estimated the signs cost about $100,000 each to erect and about $2,150 a year to maintain, including servicing generators to run them when the power is out and replacement of the bulbs every three years.
Hal said there are 15 of the signs in the Olympic region, and the region’s traffic management center in Tacoma operates them.
“The 10 signs located nearest the urban areas of Tacoma and Gig Harbor, naturally tend to get more usage. The volume of incidents and collisions is the greatest in this area,” he said.   
“The five that are located out on the peninsula (west of Gig Harbor) while operational, naturally have less cause to be activated.
“We try to use the signs only to convey messages pertaining to issues of safety concerning the motoring public, or issues of importance which may impact their trip or commute.  
Our policy is not to simply light up the signs because they are there, but only use them in time of need, as we have found that when the signs are used too often for non-emergency purposes, the public tends to take them for granted and ignore the truly important messages that we really want them to take notice of.  
“Several times a week, (often daily) messages are regularly displayed on our signs leading to the Hood Canal Bridge, warning of delays for bridge openings.  Similarly, messages are also posted alerting motorist of delays on the various ferry routes, and of course, if an accident or collision occurs, an appropriate message is place on an applicable sign warning motorists of the incident.  
Putting a message up usually takes just a minute or two, he said. “Communications between the software and the signs is by means of a telephone line to each sign. Of course, if we have an outage due to wind storms (and if the phone lines are down), we loose our ability to talk to the signs until phone service is restored.  
“Winter and the storm season bring messages that deal with road closures due to wind, rain and mud slides, and so forth, and summer brings an increase in bridge openings and ferry delays. So depending upon the time of year, we see a variety of needs which determine what signs are used, and what type of message is to be displayed.”  
The one on Highway 305 in Poulsbo is out of service because it is to be moved as part of the widening project there. All others are ready to provide a message whenever one is approved, he said.

One thought on “Are big electronic signs a waste of money?

  1. The way messages are written – to me – is often less than useful – because – for example – west of milepost ?? on highway #??? – is not something I can identify. It needs to say: between the airport and belfair (for example)

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