- Non-compliant devices routinely used
- Stretched out and shrunk arrows, text and symbols
- Poorly thought out custom signage
- Nearly universally incorrect fonts in use
- Custom signs used where an MUTCD compliant device is typically used
- A complete lack of traffic studies
If you weren't looking up close, the slash for the No Parking is so thin you'd think they were permitting parking here. 1st Ave. & 6th St.
THREE POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
The best solution, however, is to stop thinking locally and start thinking regionally. Three possible solutions are available and two likely will not require state government if each partner is willing to share the cost. The first two options include regional roads and/or a traffic control cooperative. The second is the statewide cooperative model: the most effective plan, but it would require the state legislature to approve.
The regional roads approach would combine maintenance in the immediate area under the planning jurisdiction of North-Central Alabama Regional Council of Governments. That area is a mere three counties: Lawrence, Cullman and Morgan. Two of those are former captive counties and Morgan was highlighted for its issues. This approach would not be sufficient for a traffic control cooperative, but if all three counties and cities within combined road maintenance along with all three county engineers it would provide resources for a fourth: a PTOE that could oversee traffic control while otherwise streamlining costs. All three counties in their unincorporated areas have close to 150,000 residents and already partner with several towns. It is a sensible solution that would at the very least be a good pilot project to prove that regional road maintenance is a better option in North Alabama.
The traffic control cooperative is a bit more complicated in that it requires an operations fee due to it operating separately from the county road systems. For that reason, the regional planning area would need to be much larger thus would be best when combined with the five counties of NW Alabama Council of Local Governments. Assuming it costs $400,000 per year and all counties and cities were participating, the operations fee would cost $12,000 per year even while the county would have to contribute $56,000 per year. Just the cost of the PTOE alone would probably run $2,391 for the city and $11,000 for the county. This is where state-aid for this purpose would help.
The last would be for the state legislature to simply understand that local governments in Alabama are too small to be able to supervise road maintenance effectively on their own. It was clear that standards were more consistent when the state managed the captive counties. While a return to the captive model is not likely, creating a statewide cooperate agency with the state government providing matching funds (covering operations fees) with every partner county and city would be an ideal approach. Counties and cities like Cullman could easily join with no up front costs resulting in the issues you see in Cullman greatly improving.
By removing direct traffic control responsibility from the local governments and putting it on a level where professional standards can always be applied, shoddy signs like these would become a rarity. Since to many the last option, the Statewide Cooperative Plan sounds like gibberish, we should give it a name. We should call it the Alabama Local Roads Commission. The primary duty of the Alabama Local Roads Commission is to consolidate all traffic control responsibility to a statewide commission jointly owned by all the counties and cities in the state. This means that instead of the city or county managing traffic control you have a central unit that oversees, purchases, distributes and produces traffic control devices on behalf of the state's counties, cities and towns. The cooperative model does not mean ownership, thus local governments including Cullman can still set their own speed limits and traffic ordinances such as truck restrictions. The Local Roads Commission also provides traffic engineering services and, if necessary, provides full road maintenance. According to the plan that was discussed, more populous counties like Cullman would have either just traffic control handled by the commission or a farm-to-market system directly administered by the Commission with other streets remaining local. However, traffic control duties would universally transfer to the Commission thus neither the city or county would be directly responsible for these (terrible) signs. Cullman City and County under this plan could still finance their own road projects, construct roads but routine maintenance either in the form of traffic control or, if chosen, comprehensive road maintenance would transfer to the Alabama Local Roads Commission. Funding would come from a pooling of resources on a local level to make this possible coupled with state-aid funding.
The issues here with Cullman are extreme and almost 95% in violation of the MUTCD if not for the Stop signs. It is the worst case that we have ever seen. In this case, ALDOT should mandate that all non-compliant devices be replaced as-is at the expense of the city or county that installed them in order to receive any more state-funding including the cost of traffic studies. However, Cullman once again proves that the root of the problem is entrusting something as technical as traffic control planning, a position that typically requires a specialized PTOE license, to local agencies with nobody qualified to handle that responsibility with very little training and funding provided to whoever in the city makes these awful signs. This is not something that local agencies should be expected to do as a matter of principle unless they are a very large population county with a high level of funding and responsibility.