According to recent survey results, new highway signs promoting rest area amenities are influencing motorists’ decisions to use them.
Among the 947 respondents using an electronic customer feedback system, 33 percent said they had seen the signs and 29 percent were not sure if they had. Of these two groups, 27 percent indicated the signs influenced their decision to stop and 61 percent described the signs as helpful.
These visitors had the opportunity to take a quick survey via QR code displayed on door decals, stand signs and flyers at the rest areas.
“No other states have installed advance rest area signage that list amenities available at upcoming rest areas,” said Rob Williams, MnDOT’s Safety Rest Area program manager. “We believe this is a cost-effective way to entice people off the road for breaks.”
MnDOT began a two-year pilot project in 2015 to implement findings from its 2009 Rest Area Amenities Study, which suggested that more detailed signage about rest area amenities could encourage motorists to pull off and take a break – which could save lives. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving-related crashes resulted in 795 deaths in 2017. Williams applied for research implementation funds to install 36 signs advertising the amenities ahead of 21 rest areas along Interstate 35 and I-94, as well as at the Brainerd Lakes Area Welcome Center.
Safety rest areas are one tool to keep drivers safe by giving them a place to stop, rest and refresh. MnDOT operates 51 Class I rest areas throughout the state, but not all rest areas offer the same amenities. Depending on the traveler, it may be a family restroom, fenced dog park, or children’s play area that best serves their needs.
MnDOT’s Rest Area Program is continuously working to improve rest areas to better serve travelers and reduce driver fatigue accidents.
“Our rest areas provide an opportunity to directly interface with Minnesotans and visitors traveling through our state, and we want to provide them with the best possible experience,” Williams said.
Ongoing enhancements to our rest areas include improving safety, accessibility and sustainability by:
Increasing visibility in rest area lobbies and installing video recording systems to improve visitor safety
Improving accessibility and introducing family restrooms
Increasing sustainability by use of native vegetation, installing electric vehicle charging stations, using materials with lower life-cycle costs and, in some cases, developing green roofs
In recent years, MnDOT inspection crews have reported loose anchor bolts on many support structures for overhead signs, high-mast light towers, tall traffic signals, and other signs and luminaires. On newly installed structures, many nuts on anchor bolts may loosen in as little as three weeks; on older structures, they may loosen less than two years after retightening.
Federal standards mandate inspections at least once every five years, a requirement that already stretched MnDOT’s resources for managing light poles, traffic signals and 2,000-plus overhead signs. With an estimated 20 percent of loose anchor bolts in MnDOT’s highway system at any given time, crews would have to inspect structures every year to ensure public safety.
This issue is not unique to Minnesota. In a national survey, some states estimate as many as 60 percent of their anchor bolts may be loose. Minnesota, like other states, tightens anchor bolts according to American Association of State Highway and Transportation
Officials (AASHTO) standards. But the standards and procedures for tightening and retightening bolts were insufficient. To develop appropriate specifications, MnDOT needed to know why bolts loosen. The agency also needed improved standards and procedures to ensure that anchor bolts are tightened effectively
What Was Our Goal?
MnDOT decided to undertake a research project to determine why anchor bolts and nuts on sign and luminaire support structures loosen after installation or retightening, and to develop new standards and procedures that ensure proper and lasting tightening of these bolts.
Researchers from Iowa State University examined specifications and procedures for tightening anchor bolts on support structures in Minnesota. They also developed new specifications and instructions to help crews tighten bolts properly and ensure lasting safety of signs and lights in Minnesota’s highway system.
How Did We Do IT?
Researchers conducted a literature search on anchor bolt loosening. Then they surveyed MnDOT maintenance staff on bolt lubrication and tightening practices, and visited sites in Minnesota and Iowa to observe installation and retightening practices.
In the laboratory, investigators studied the relationship of torque, rotation and tension of various bolt diameters and material grades. They found that bolt stiffness, grip length (the distance between the nuts at each end of an anchor bolt in a two-nut bolt system), snug-tight standards, lubrication and verification after 48 hours played a role in effective tightening practices.
To determine the impact of environmental and structural strain on bolt tightness, researchers monitored sign structures in the field and in the lab. They attached strain gages to the bolts and post of an overhead sign near Minneapolis-St. Paul and installed a wind monitor, camera and data logging unit nearby to collect strain and environmental data for four months. In the lab, they instrumented a post and baseplate mounted in concrete to compare current and proposed tightening specifications and practices.
Investigators developed specifications for each bolt size and grade, anchor baseplate dimension and pole size used by MnDOT based on lab and field results. They also created finite element models to analyze future anchor bolt configurations.
What Did We Learn?
Over- and under-tightening contribute to premature loosening of nuts on anchor bolts. While contractors may lack the experience and training to properly use turn-of-nut guidance, AASHTO recommendations poorly serve the bolt sizes and grades used by MnDOT.
AASHTO’s snug-tight guidance neglects certain characteristics of nuts and bolts, and its turn-of-nut direction is provided for only two bolt sizes and two bolt grades. In some cases, these standards may cause the heads of small bolts to break off and may lead to undertightening of large bolts. MnDOT can measure torque in the field but cannot determine tension, making AASHTO’s equation for verifying torque and tension impractical.
“We have revised our specs to follow the recommended procedures for anchor bolt tightening. The new tables of verification torque values will be fine for both two-nut and one-nut anchor bolt systems,” says Jihshya Lin, Bridge Evaluation and Fabrication Methods Engineer, MnDOT Bridge Office.
Researchers revised the specifications to require bolt lubrication, establish torque levels for snug-tight and specify turn-of-nut rotation after snug-tight for a range of MnDOT materials:
• Eight bolt sizes, ranging from ¾-inch diameter to 2.5-inch diameter.
• Five bolt grades.
• Nine baseplate thicknesses.
• 12 single- and double-mast pole types.
The new specifications provide torque levels in tables to verify the tightness for each bolt, plate and pole type, eliminating the need to run equations. To assist crews that are installing or retightening anchor bolts, researchers developed guidelines that include a compliance form with a checklist to direct crews through each step of the tightening process and ensure proper tension.
The new specifications and procedures should improve public safety and reduce the traffic control, manpower and equipment expenditures required to respond to prematurely loosened nuts. Continued monitoring of bolts installed and retightened under these specifications over time would help evaluate the new procedures.
A new implementation project is underway that will demonstrate these findings in the field. Researchers will also produce educational videos for training and demonstration to MnDOT personnel and contractors. Video topics will include:
Basic Concepts of Bolt Tightening
New Specified Procedures
Signals and Lighting
Additionally, researchers will provide one or more training sessions with training materials. Materials and videos will be posted on a website developed by the researchers.
“This project will find out the behavior of the DMS and RICWS under AASHTO defined design loads and develop the retrofitting system to avoid the experienced problems that will improve the public safety, reduce the maintenance cost and minimize impact to the traffic,” Lin said.
RICWS have exhibited excessive swaying under wind loads, leading to safety concerns regarding failure of the support structure at the base. It is believed the heavy weight of these signs has brought the frequency range of these systems too close to that of the wind excitations. There is a need to investigate the wind-induced dynamic effects on these sign structures and to propose modifications to the systems to reduce the likelihood of failure. There is also interest in investigating the dynamic behavior of the DMS, particularly the loads on the friction connection.
This research project involves a field investigation to determine the structural performance of these two types of sign structures. Laboratory tests using a towing tank facility and a wind tunnel will be performed on scaled models and opportunely modified models to improve performance and minimize unsteady loads.
The outcome of this project is expected to develop an understanding of the RICWS and DMS sign structures and to provide modifications to improve the structural performance of the RICWS sign structures while maintaining the crashworthy requirements. The results will help to ensure the uninterrupted service of these sign structures, which are important to public safety.
Task 1A: Development of Field Instrumentation Plan and Instrumentation Purchase
Task 1B: Experimental Determination of Load Effects and Dynamic Characteristics of Post Mounted DMS in Field
Task 2A: Development of Numerical Models to Investigate Post Mounted DMS Sign Demands and Fatigue
Task 2B: Validation of Numerical Models to Investigate Post Mounted DMS Sign Demands and Fatigue
Task 3A: Investigation of Design Loads and Relevant Fatigue Considerations for DMS
Task 3B: Analysis of Design Loads and Anticipated Fatigue Life of DMS
Task 4: Experimental Determination of Dynamic Characteristics of RICWS in Field
Task 5: Development and Validation of Numerical Models to Investigate RICWS Signs
Task 6: Numerical and Experimental Investigation of Drag and Vortex Shedding Characteristics of RICWS Signs Using Scaled Models
Task 7: Numerical and Small-Scale Experimental Investigation of Modifications to RICWS Sign Panel to Reduce Effects of Vortex Shedding
Task 8: Numerical and Analytical Investigation of Noncommercial Means to Damp Motion of RICWS Blankout Sign Structure
Task 9A: Research Benefits and Implementation Steps Initial Memorandum
Task 9B: Research Benefits and Develop Implementation Steps
Task 10: Compile Report, Technical Advisory Panel Review and Revisions
Task 11: Editorial Review and Publication of Final Report
The project is scheduled to be completed in March 2019.
Researchers studied driving behavior at four multilane roundabouts to better understand the relationship between traffic control designs and driver errors. Data collected showed that certain traffic control changes decreased turn violations but failed to eliminate yield violations. Researchers were unable to identify long-term solutions for improving roundabout design and signage, and recommended further research to improve the overall safety and mobility of multilane roundabouts.
“Even though the study did not provide a silver bullet on how to prevent crashes at multilane roundabouts, it did create an efficient tool to analyze and quantify driving behavior data,” said Joe Gustafson, Traffic Engineer, Washington County Public Works.
“This study has advanced our knowledge in multilane roundabout safety and is one step closer to providing much needed improvements to roundabout design guidance,” said John Hourdos, Director, Minnesota Traffic Observatory, University of Minnesota.
What Was the Need?
Roundabouts have been shown to improve overall in-tersection safety compared to traditional traffic signals. However, noninjury crashes are sometimes more frequent on multilane roundabouts than on single-lane roundabouts due in part to driver confusion. Common driver errors such as failing to yield and turning violations on multilane roundabouts have contributed to an increase in noninjury crashes.
Given the benefits of improved mobility, traffic throughput and injury reduction of multilane roundabouts, reducing the noninjury crash rate at multilane roundabouts is important to facilitating their use by Minnesota cities and counties. Identifying solutions to reduce common driving violations would be more sustainable than the current practice of converting multilane roundabouts back to single-lane roundabouts.
In a previous study on a two-lane roundabout in Richfield, Minnesota, researchers demonstrated that traffic control changes could reduce some of these driver errors. However, more data was needed to support study results. Understanding driver behavior and improving traffic control devices are key factors in designing safer multilane roundabouts.
What Was Our Goal?
With limited research on modern multilane roundabouts, the Minnesota Traffic Observatory sought to collect more data to evaluate the correlation between traffic control design features and collisions. Instead of conducting manual observations, researchers used an innovative video analysis tool to collect and process recorded videos of driving behaviors at test sites. Based on the analysis, they attempted to identify driver behaviors and error rates to help reduce noninjury crashes at multilane roundabouts.
What Did We Do?
The research team selected four multilane roundabouts in Minnesota — two in Mankato, one in Lakeville and one in St. Cloud — to observe undesirable driving maneuvers. At each roundabout site, researchers mounted video cameras at key locations to record one to two weeks of driving behavior. Only one roundabout could be observed at a time because only one set of specialized video equipment was available.
The raw videos were processed to produce a data set for analysis. Researchers used TrafficIntelligence, an open-source computer vision program, to automate extraction of vehicle trajectories from the raw footages. They used the same software to correct any errors to improve data reliability. The resulting clean data from the recorded videos were supplemented with historical crash frequency data reports obtained from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Collectively, data from both sources allowed researchers to thoroughly investigate the frequency and crash types from the four roundabouts. A statistical analysis of the data revealed that turn violations and yield violations were among the most common driving errors.
Researchers also looked at how violation rates vary with the roundabout’s location and relevant design features. Based on these findings, researchers proposed signage and striping changes to reduce driver errors at the two Mankato test sites. After the changes were implemented, they collected additional video data.
What Did We Learn?
This study provided one of the most comprehensive analyses to date of driving behavior at multilane roundabouts. Researchers were successful in finding solutions for reducing turn violations, but they were unable to identify solutions for yield violations despite the vast amount of data.
Minor differences in the design at each roundabout presented specific challenges. The analysis focused on how each varying design feature impacted driving behavior. Proposed traffic control changes such as extending solid lines between entrance lanes, adjusting the position of yield signs and adding one-way signs successfully decreased turn violations. However, data from before and after traffic control changes showed an insignificant impact on decreasing yield violations. Importantly, the study produced a list of ineffective traffic control methods that can be eliminated from future studies, saving engineers time and money.
The TrafficIntelligence tool was crucial in efficiently processing and cleaning large amounts of raw video. With improvements made to the software program, the tool should be an asset to future research on roundabouts and to other studies requiring observations of driving behavior.
The traffic control changes that were successful at reducing crashes at two-lane roundabouts should be implemented by traffic engineers. In particular, large overhead directional signs or extended solid lines between entrance lanes should be installed to help reduce turning violations. The analysis method used in this study could also be used for a robust before-and-after evaluation of future modifications to traffic control devices.
Additional research could further scrutinize the data already collected, and researchers recommend that more data be collected to examine additional traffic control methods and other intersection design elements to improve the overall safety and mobility of two-lane roundabouts. This research could also serve as an impetus for the study of numerous roundabouts in a pooled fund effort involving several states.
Traffic signs provide important information to drivers, and are a critical component of traffic safety. In order to be effective, their visibility and readability must be maintained under both day and night conditions.
Key to signs’ effectiveness is a quality known as retroreflectivity — the ability for signs to bounce light back toward a driver’s eyes, making them appear brighter and easier to read. Retroreflectivity deteriorates with time, so transportation agencies need to actively maintain their signs.
A research project funded by the Local Road Research Board is developing a guide to help cities and counties better manage their signs, and also to meet a new Federal Highway Administration retroreflectivity management requirement while getting the lowest life-cycle costs.
Cities and counties have until June to establish a sign assessment or management method that will maintain minimum levels of sign retroreflectivity.
“Right now there’s a mixture of different management methods, with very little guidance as to what’s appropriate for your agency based on the signs you have and your labor force and equipment,” said Matt Lebens, a MnDOT research project engineer.
Since 1993, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices has included guidelines for minimum retroreflectivity of pavement markings and signs. The standards are meant to ensure that drivers, especially the growing population of elderly drivers, are able to detect, comprehend and react to traffic signs. The LRRB project is designed to help fill certain knowledge gaps in this area.
Possible methods for ensuring retroflectivity include night-time inspection; use of a reflectometer; spot-checking a sampling of signs that are the same age; or blanket replacement of signs once they reach a certain age.
Although the retroreflectivity of a sign is guaranteed by its manufacturer to last a certain number of years, it commonly lasts much longer.
“Currently, we don’t have expected sign life guidance for agencies to use. Through this project, we are establishing a control deck for sign sheeting used in the state, and an expert panel will make recommendations on expected sign life ranges,” Lebens said.
Researchers reviewed retro-reflectivity studies from other states and also measured the retro-reflectivity of signs out in the field across Minnesota using a retroreflectometer. As part of this project, MnDOT is providing training on the retroreflectometer and will also make it available for loan to local municipalities. (Watch a video demonstration.)
At MnDOT’s MnROAD site, control decks contain dozens of signs. In addition to measuring retroreflectivity, the MnDOT Materials lab is monitoring color fade, which has been a larger issue in Minnesota.
“By getting better data as to the real life in-field life span of the signs, agencies will have a more realistic and better informed value for sign life expectancy, as well as potentially reducing costs,” said MnDOT Senior Engineer Mark Vizecky.
There’s been no definitive studies to date as to what the life of a sign is, said lead project investigator Howard Preston of CH2M Hill, but the research so far shows it is in well excess of manufacturer warranties.
Cities and counties will be advised to pick an expected sign life that goes beyond the warranty – and then stay tuned.
“The notion is to watch these signs until they fail,” Preston said. “The sheeting material is better than it used to be. The failure might be 20 or 30 years out.”
There are two basic types of reflective sheeting material: beaded and prismatic.
Although beaded is guaranteed to last 10 years, researchers anticipate a retroreflectivity life of between 12 and 20 years old.
For the prismatic material – which has a 12-year warranty – the life cycle is anticipated to be 20 to 30 years.
“Nobody knows for sure, because nobody has actually followed this material to failure in a controlled condition,” Preston said. “On the road, there are so many variables: vandalism, knock-downs, etc.”
In an effort to encourage more use of safety rest areas and reduce drowsy driving, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is bolstering amenities and plans to install new signage at select rest areas across the state.
Drowsy driving is conservatively estimated to cause at least 1,550 deaths nationwide each year and $12.5 billion in monetary damage.
MnDOT will design and install highway symbol signs to advertise the amenities at 13 rest areas in a pilot project funded by MnDOT’s Transportation Research Implementation Group.
“We are using this as a way to entice drivers to take a break, pull over and refresh before returning to the road,” said Robert Williams, MnDOT Safety Rest Area Program Manager and the project proponent.
Amenities differ greatly between rest areas within the state, as well as across the country; this depends on when they were built and whether they are located on an interstate, state highway or toll road.
Older, smaller rest areas may only have a bathroom and picnic area, while newer facilities often have features such as children’s play areas, staffed travel counters and dog runs.
In the future, the state may consider new amenities such as gift shops, adult exercise equipment to rejuvenate motorists, electrical vehicle charging stations and perhaps even electrification stations to allow truck drivers to power their TV or refrigerator without idling their vehicle.
Research has found that as the spacing of rest areas increases beyond 30 miles, the number of drowsy driving crashes goes up exponentially, Williams said.
Symbols on each sign will identify up to six amenities, such as in the example above, which depicts an assisted restroom, gift shop, ticket sales, EV charging stations, childrens’ playlot and adult exercise equipment.
MnDOT will evaluate the pilot project to determine if the symbol signs are effective in communicating to travelers the amenities offered at individual rest areas and if the signs were a factor that encouraged them to stop.
If the two-year project goes well, the state may add similar signs to the remaining 39 Class I safety rest areas (those rest areas equipped with flush toilets).
Some of the signs will require a request to FHWA for experimentation. The intent is to install the signs in the summer of 2015 at rest areas on northbound I-35, eastbound I-94, as well as at the Brainerd Lakes Area Welcome Center on Hwy. 371.
Rest Area Offerings Increase
Although travelers and state DOTs would often like to introduce new amenities, state and federal laws limit what states can offer.
Toll roads and highways built before 1960 (the Interstate era), mostly in the East Coast or Chicago area, have fewer federal restrictions than rest areas in Minnesota and may feature restaurants or convenience stores.
Changes to Minnesota state law in 2005 and recent changes to federal law in MAP-21 now allow limited commercial activities, such as tourism-related gift shops and ticket sales at rest areas. MnDOT and its partners have taken advantage of some of these changes at its visitor centers in Brainerd/Baxter and Cass Lake.
In addition, the state is exploring the concept of using rest areas as transit transfer facilities, where long-distance bus carriers and regional transit lines can exchange passengers.
These transit hubs would shorten travel times for long-distance travelers and allow the rest areas to serve multiple functions while providing a comfortable waiting area for passengers.