Some examples of local government neglect/misuse of guide signs is shown below:
This now-removed sign in Pickens County, GA shows another guide sign that involved exactly zero reference to the MUTCD. The use of "TO" for a town name, mileage in small text under a non-standard arrow was an improper design. This county had very few guide signs as it was.
The role of states in the installation and maintenance of guide and route signs must change. Essentially, the MUTCD itself might need to change in this regard by no longer permitting county, city or town governments to post any type of M series route sign or D series guide sign without state approval aside from street name signs limiting that authority to states, the proposed regional road authorities or the proposed statewide interagency cooperatives. However, such drastic measures are not needed if the states just take responsibility for this roadway function on their own. In states like Florida, guide and route signs are frequently replaced as part of resurfacing projects. In other words, the failure of the counties to install and maintain these signs led to the state renovating not just the pavement but also the safety improvements (signs, guardrails, pavement markings) and guide signs. This is why today FDOT standard guide and route signs can be found along rural county roads sporadically across the state. After the tremendous failures by counties to properly maintain safety improvements and guide signs statewide, the state continues to take an increasingly large role in making sure that counties are doing their job. The main guide sign duties the state would handle in regards to local roads would be:
- Trailblazer signage directing traffic from connecting local roadways to the nearest state, U.S. or interstate highway
- Directional, distance and combination destination/distance guide signage guiding traffic to cities, towns, substantial unincorporated communities and named junctions with major highways
- Junction assemblies, directional route assemblies and destination/distance guide signs where connecting local highways meet state highways
- Jurisdictional boundary and stream signs (I-2/I-3 signs)
- Directional and distance signs of recreational use (brown signs)
- Large freeway-mount guide signs along freeways and expressways that fall under local control
More details based on the list above will be described further. Not listed here are county routes, which are described separately due to special conditions. This is because county highways have been ill-defined and thus have problems deeper than signage. In addition, not all states post county route signs thus this is a non-issue in those states. However, in those states where county highways are either not specifically defined as routes and/or are not posted, trailblazers should be used far more extensively. West Virginia in particular frequently posts trailblazers along its county road system to guide travelers to the nearest state highway. Other states do not have any specific statewide system making numbered county roads the defacto road name having no use as an actual route further highlighting the need for trailblazers. States that do not typically sign (or have) county routes (including state-owned county) on a statewide basis include:
- Washington State
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- Tennessee (1-2 counties are exceptions)
- Oregon (a few counties are exceptions)
- New England States (Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island)
It is also important to note that state responsibility for guide signs on local roads could be instead transferred to regions if the Regional Roads Plan is adopted. However, the state should still create guidelines for the regions to follow to establish uniformity in practice across the defined regions. An example of this can be found in Iowa's MUTCD Supplement for Cities and Counties. Iowa developed an MUTCD supplement that is specifically designed to aid local governments in proper traffic sign management, and with this they established guidelines for guide sign placement on local roads. Iowa's policies are unfortunately atypical of most states.
Guide signs are even more important than route signs as a need that should transfer to the state level on local roads. The first consideration is that guide sign planning involves a wider scope than local governments can usually see. Destinations often are located on roads that cross multiple jurisdictions, and local governments likely may not have a good understand of what roads are truly considered routes vs. truly local roads. Worse is when the state posts a guide sign for a destination along a local road, which requires turns along local roads. Often the local agency fails to post these turns making it easy for the driver to become lost looking for the destination. While smart phones and GPS mapping have helped, they are prone to errors placing people on roads not safe for through traffic. In addition, the driver should not be having to focus on these devices focusing instead on the road itself. Also, most guide signs are not needed along the majority of local roads meaning that only those local roadways of greater importance that actually go somewhere need such signs. Because of this, it is very possible that a state can absorb the cost into their existing sign program to begin installing guide signs and route marker assemblies (excluding county route markers) along local roads.
Included with any county guide signs plans, the state should also review and update their own guide sign plans to coordinate with county roads and to replace out of date descriptions. This is further discussed below in "Changes Needed on a State Level".
The following list of signs should be handled exclusively by the state and financed as part of the state sign budget:
US/Interstate/State Route Signs [M1-1 through M1-5]
- Trailblazers [“TO” route] (M4-5, M6-1 through M6-7)
- Junction Assemblies [M2-1, M2-2]
- Directional route assemblies [M3-1 - M3-4, M4-1 - M4-6, M5-1, M5-2, M6-1 - M6-7]
- Green destination signs (D1 series)
- Brown Recreational Destination Signs
- Green Distance Signs (D2 Series)
- Brown Recreational Distance Signs
- Combination Destination/Distance Signs
- State, county line, city limit, unincorporated community [I-2 signs]
- Stream crossing (river, creek) [I-3 sign]
- This includes all freeway-mount guide signs as required along freeways and expressways otherwise maintained by the local government
- Situations where local agencies maintain fully access-controlled freeways are relatively rare or follow short distances
- These signs should be installed and maintained by the state even if the road is otherwise not state-controlled
STATE LIABILITY ISSUES WITH GUIDE SIGNS ON LOCAL ROADS
COUNTY ROUTE SIGNS: A SPECIAL CONCERN
County junction assembly with interstate-style auxiliary signs changed to match county route sign colors (yellow on blue).
- A ratio limit on which roads may be signed as county routes if no other limiting factor exists such as townships. The ratio should be based on functional classification with an additional small percentage to cover a few local connecting roads ranging from 25-40% of total public roadway mileage.
- A priority of placing county routes along federal-aid eligible roads first, then minor collectors, then locals if the federal-aid eligible roadway is not routed along the shortest and best route
- Numbering systems are assigned based strictly on a statewide uniform system instead of locally, and they are laid out as a functional highway system as if the road is a state highway
- In states without townships, the posting of a county route has no other special status other than possible state-aid funding/maintenance of traffic control
- In states with regional highway systems, the definition for "county road" changes to "regional road", and a different marker may be adopted for regional roads other than the standard blue pentagon
- States finances and may also directly engineer and install county route signs in lieu of local governments
- Other county roads must have posted route signs replaced with street name signs or lower-profile, lower cost county road number signs. Examples in three different states are shown below.
While this is a ragged example, Georgia's vertical county route markers generally mounted on the back of Stop or Yield signs but occasionally standing alone clearly define ownership while not being confused as a main route.
Virginia's dogtag styled markers are designed to mark less important secondary state roads. Secondary roads in Virginia are county-level equivalent in other states. This is an example of a lower profile sign. They are clear enough to be easily read and understood yet do not convey the same level of importance as a 24" x 24" route marker.
CHANGES ALSO NEEDED ON A STATE LEVEL
- The development of clearly written state standards for guide signs if they do not otherwise exist (including an MUTCD supplement if possible). See the Iowa example for an idea of how this could be done.
- A case-by-case analysis of each intersection on the arterial and collector road network to identify needed trailblazers, directional signage and distance signage with analysis done one county at a time.
- The analysis should include functionally local roads that operate as alternate routes for substandard or missing links. It should also identify locations of importance including recreational or other uses that are located off of the collector route system as well as on.
- An analysis of unincorporated communities of significance, especially junctions of collector and arterial roadways, large census designated places and popular tourist areas. These will be added to guide signs along county roads and along state highways, and community name signs added where they do not exist (see the "Cartecay Unincorporated" example above).
- Analysis of existing signs along state routes and local roads looking for relics, worn out signs, duplicates, unnecessary signs, misleading signs and incorrect information. These should be identified followed by removal or correction.
- Adding all existing and approved future signs to a GIS database
- Meet with local officials on issues with guide signs, proposed changes, recommendations and to gain approval of guide sign plans with any changes from local officials.
- Analyze existing state and county routes to identify changes needed to either the state or county route system (if used) proposing modifications to coincide with guide sign plans.
- City, county and regional engineers may also periodically recommend additions and corrections to be funded and/or installed by state forces.
- Better distribute traffic patterns allowing people to find the shortest and best route regardless of roadway ownership. This is especially important in high traffic regions
- Better lay out confusing routings of unnumbered highways where at least one or more turns is required
- Keep cities and towns on the map by-passed by faster roads
- Help tourists and non-local visitors find sites found along roads not on the state highway system
- Help tourists and non-local visitors find their way back after visiting those sites
- Help prevent cars and large trucks from accidentally driving on unsuitable roads
- Help people find the best way in the face of many options (such as those that GPS provides)
- Help drivers save time and gas thus reducing pollution and increasing productivity