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New digital signs to help improve highway safety

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

(Photo)
Craig Compas, traffic engineer for MoDOT's southeast district, checks on the new digital message board on eastbound Route 60 west of Sikeston. The six digital signs in southeast Missouri became operational Friday.
(Photo by Scott Welton, Staff)
Signs are part of statewide initiative

SIKESTON -- Digital message signs along area highways will provide motorists with the information they need when they need it.

The signs are part of Missouri Department of Transportation's statewide initiative to improve highway safety by giving motorists the most current traffic information.

Similar to the temporary changeable message signs used by MoDOT to alert motorists of work on the road ahead of them, these message boards are permanent fixtures. In addition to detour information about road work that may cause long delays, these permanent signs can also provide real-time information about other conditions and incidents that cause traffic delays such as traffic accidents, according to Craig Compas, traffic engineer for MoDOT's southeast district.

"Nearly 50 of the message boards were installed last year along I-70 and I-44," Compas said. "This year, message boards were installed along I-55 in southeast Missouri as well as I-29 and I-35 in northwest Missouri."

Six local signs, which are located on Interstate 55 and Route 60, became operational Friday, Compas said.

The nearest digital message signs are located two miles west of Sikeston on eastbound Route 60; and south of Sikeston at the 55.6 mile marker on northbound I-55 and at the 63.7 mile marker on southbound I-55.

The other three in southeast Missouri are at mile marker 77.5 on northbound I-55 and at mile markers 108.9 and 134.1 on southbound I-55.

"They are located at what we call 'decision points,'" Compas said. Decision points are places where motorists with information about the road ahead can still decide to take an alternate route, he explained.

Compas said if there were an accident on southbound I-55 that was backing up traffic, for example, motorists on eastbound Route 60 reading the message board would know enough in advance to be able to select Highway 61 as an alternate route.

Text on the signs is changed remotely although it can also be changed at the sign for maintenance and testing to make sure it is operating correctly.

"You can call them in from remote areas anywhere in the state and let travelers know what's going on ahead of them," Compas said. "Ours are being changed out of St. Louis right now. We can can change them here but we have a traffic operation center in St. Louis that is open 24 hours per day, seven days a week."

The message signs cost a total of $75,000 each for the equipment, installation and communication service line and power hookups, according to Compas.

"There are plans for additional signs," he said. Additional signs will be purchased using funding from the Federal Highway Administration's Rural Safety Innovation Program. Only areas eligible for Delta Regional Authority funding may receive RSIP funding, Compas said.

The digital message signs also have other uses besides providing traffic information.

"In addition to giving us a direct way to communicate important information to drivers, the boards will also allow us to issue Amber Alert information with the Missouri State Highway Patrol," Compas said.

For more information about the new digital message signs, call MoDOT's customer service center toll free at 1-888-ASK-MODOT (275-6636).