Proposal: Use road signs to communicate


Whenever Sgt. Shane Gardner walks past the electronic sign posted above Interstate 5 near WSU Vancouver, usually reading the same messages over and over again: “WSDOT sign test in progress. “DUI patrols tonight.”

Max Ault, former legislative assistant to Representative Tim Probst, noticed the same as he walked to the WSU campus. Her friends and colleagues said they no longer take the signs seriously.

What if, they wondered, local authorities could control what these electronic signs say?

The signs could convey public safety messages by warning drivers of poor road conditions, alerting them of a current emergency, letting people know that auto break-ins are on the rise, or offering advice for safe driving.

“The possibilities are endless,” said Gardner, of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Ault said drivers would pay more attention to electronic signs if they frequently update local information.

“You kind of whitewash the value of public safety by putting the same message over and over again,” he said.

The Washington Department of Transportation controls electronic signs statewide, using them to post Amber alerts, lifts, construction, and accidents that block lanes or cause traffic jams.

The messages, controlled by the operators of the regional traffic management offices, follow specific models. The message must be important enough to take a driver’s gaze off the road for a second, said Abbi Russell, spokesperson for the WSDOT. It must also fit on the sign.

“The way they’re managed is pretty tight,” Russell said.

Each sign is checked individually. If there is a lift in progress, for example, an operator will put a message on every sign along the I-5 corridor as far north as Ridgefield.

While WSDOT works closely with the Oregon Department of Transportation and Washington State Patrol for traffic updates and alerts, there is no precedent for it to work with them. local authorities, Russel said.

In their vision for the project, Ault and Gardner said the WSDOT would still have the right of way and could replace local messages with important national or regional alerts.

Ault wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond proposing the idea. He presented the letter to local police chiefs at a recent local law enforcement meeting. Vancouver Acting Police Chief Chris Sutter, Clark County Sheriff Garry Lucas, Ridgefield Police Chief Carrie Greene, Washougal Police Chief Ron Mitchell, Battle Ground Police Chief Bob Richardson , Interim Center Chief Erin Nolan and Lt. Dave Stephensen of the WSU Vancouver Police Department all signed the letter. The chiefs agreed to submit a preliminary list of public safety and crime prevention messages that they would broadcast on electronic boards in their jurisdictions.

Ault added the signatures of local lawmakers and sent the letter to Secretary Hammond last week.

While Ault and Gardner wait for a response, they flesh out the idea and consider involving other authorities in the project.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513;; [email protected]


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