How 'bout better info on highway message boards? - Albuquerque Journal

How ’bout better info on highway message boards?

GIMMEE THE SPEED LIMIT, NOT ETA TO ZUZAX: Steve Maize has suggestions for the missives on the electronic message boards along our highways and interstates. “Instead of the N.M. Department of Transportation telling us on the overhead electronic signage there are three more minutes to Zuzax,” Steve says, “why not broadcast No. 1: Speed Limit and No. 2: Signal lane changes? As I’m sure you’re aware, speed and reckless driving are a big problem in Albuquerque traffic control.”

Indeed they are, though you could ask if another sign would change that behavior.

And it turns out you can’t put posted/regulatory speed limits and ongoing construction alerts on those kind of signs.

Charles Remkes, manager of NMDOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems, explains there are some basic ground rules when it comes to the message boards. First, “speed limit displays are considered to be static, regulatory signing. The display of static messages on dynamic message signs is prohibited.” Variable speed limits are allowed – according to the Federal Highway Administration, “variable speed limits are displayed on changeable message signs at locations where roadway conditions regularly require speeds to reduce more than 10 mph below the posted speed limit. These instances typically occur due to weather conditions, congestion, traffic incidents, and/or work zones.” Remkes says “in New Mexico, our roadway speed limits are established by warrants and traffic studies – to that end, we have no VSLs here. Granted, in some areas of the state, i.e., along I-10 between our state border shared with Arizona and Lordsburg where we experience dust storms, we do have variable speed advisory (VSA) signs, but as you’ll notice in the picture, their display is on yellow – a warning or advisory, not on white – regulatory.

As for lane changes, construction alerts have to be up without interruption, Remkes says, and the message boards change with conditions, delays, etc. “When we do have a closure of a lane (as when there is) a crash, we do use the DMSs to advise motorists of the appropriate action, i.e., merge right or left as appropriate,” he says. “If the lane closure is due to construction or roadwork activities, we can use our DMSs as a supplement to the traffic control signage with some limitations. The key word here is ‘supplemental’ in that traffic control plans for construction are a legal document and must be in place during construction activities. Deviations to that approved traffic control plan are not allowed unless approved by our professional engineering staff, which cannot be done on the fly or instantly to accommodate changing road or traffic conditions in real time. Our messaging does have priorities, and construction messaging on our DMSs could be usurped should an event of higher priority occur. It’s because of this that we can’t use our permanent DMSs as primary construction signage.”

But improvements are on the table. Remkes says “as it relates to advising the motorist of necessary or recommended lane changes associated with changing traffic conditions, the Albuquerque Metropolitan Planning Area (AMPA) ITS architecture has identified managed lanes as a service for the region. It’s prioritized as a mid-term need – i.e. between 5-10 years – and would include something akin to the displays as pictured.”

IT’S MY JOB TO REPORT LIGHT OUTAGES? After the March 13 column had PNM encouraging residents to report street light outages, a reader emailed “every year this comes up, and the answer remains the same, ‘As you’re driving, make a note of the exact location of the streetlight outage and then go home, log on to the right website to report it.’

“I’ve done this in the past, and it’s quite an undertaking. This would probably be the correct answer if the issue wasn’t so widespread. It is a huge issue that should be addressed by each agency that is responsible for the lights. It would take one eight-hour shift once a month for someone from each agency to get a second person with a map of all the lights – you’d think they would have something like that – and drive around and note what lights are out. Shame on the city and county (and electric utility?) for not having a plan in place to address this problem without having to rely on the public to do it for them.”

Editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the metro area on Mondays. Reach her at 823-3858;; or 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.


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