Cornell Local Roads Program

Meeting the Sign Retroreflectivity Standard

The new requirement for meeting the standards for sign retroreflectivity could be construed as an unfunded mandate. It also could be used as an opportunity to upgrade your signs.

The critical issue for most municipalities is to decide what method will be used to manage the retroreflectivity of its signs. The available methods in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), Section 2A.08 Maintaining Minimum Retroreflectivity, include the following:

Within the nighttime visual assessment technique there are actually three possible variants:

These eight methods are explained in more detail below

Figure 1. Inspecting a Sign using a Comparison Panel
Figure 1: Inspecting a Sign using a Comparison Panel
(done at night, but the picture is shown during the day for clarity)

This gives each municipality a total of eight possible retroreflectivity management methods that could be used in addition to development of another method. There are agencies in New York State using each of, or a combination of, the various techniques.

Larry Lin Inspecting an Intersection in Livingston County
Figure 2: Larry Lin Inspecting an Intersection in Livingston County

In the summer of 2011, the Cornell Local Roads Program hired a student, Larry Lin, to work with three County Highway Departments in western New York to determine how to best share a retroreflectometer as part of meeting the new standards on sign retroreflectivity. This sharing program included the three Counties as well as the 71 other local jurisdictions in the respective counties (Towns, Villages and one City).

Sharing a retroreflectometer among agencies is very feasible, but there are certain ground rules that should be included in any sharing agreement.

No matter how the retroreflectometer is purchased, one agency should be the official owner.

Only agencies with dedicated sign personnel should use the retroreflectometer as it is too expensive to replace if damaged.

The project also examined the current status and capability of the various municipalities in inventory, inspection, and management of the signs currently along each highway. A full report of the project is available on the Cornell Local Roads Program website.

Most local agencies had a sign inventory, but the quality varied quite a bit. The purchase of signs and materials was mostly done in coordination with the County Highway Departments. The highway departments were using sign materials that meet the new retroreflectivity and crashworthy standards. However, inspections were not consistent and most smaller agencies had no comprehensive plan for testing sign retroreflectivity. Even among the Counties, there was not a clear systematic approach in every case.

Comparison Panel Kit

After meeting with eleven of the municipalities (see table below), it became clear that most of the highway departments were performing nighttime inspections and if a way could be found to make low cost comparison panels this would be a valuable outcome of the project.

Table 1. Municipalities Visited, Summer 2011
Genesee County
Town of Batavia, Genesee County
Town of Oakfield, Genesee County
Livingston County
Town of Leicester, Livingston County
Town of Portage, Livingston County
Town of Mt. Morris, Livingston County
Village of Mt. Morris, Livingston County
Wyoming County
Town of Covington, Wyoming County
Town of Java, Wyoming County

Spring 2012

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This work by the Cornell Local Roads Program (CLRP) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.