While about 25 percent of driving occurs at night, half of all fatalities happen during such hours, according to the Federal Highway Administration. In an effort to reduce roadway deaths and improve overall traffic safety, the agency has mandated state and local agencies meet minimum sign “retro-reflectivity” standards — the nighttime visibility of traffic signs.

Appleton, Wis., is making headway on this task and others with the help of a streamlined sign inventory system.

Through a contract with GISi, Appleton will soon have a GIS-based road sign inventory system and data collection service, putting it into compliance with federally mandated standards. The traffic sign management system — which will be available for mobile devices and online — will track inventory, develop work plans and track maintenance activities, according to a press release.

“This solution will revolutionize that workflow,” said Kevin Stewart, an account manager with GISi. “This solution will define when those signs need to be maintained.”

Road sign retro-reflectivity is generally managed using spreadsheets and on paper, Stewart said, so Appleton’s solution will be a shift in workplace culture. That said, “it’s going to be a really straightforward, easy-to-use application in the field,” he said.

For example, if a worker is installing a stop sign and needs to enter specific information using a tablet computer, that data will automatically be input into the main database, Stewart said. And when employees first get to the office in the morning, they can fire up their tablet computer and view a list of sign maintenance work orders compiled by the system.

“Like most cities and counties today, we are operating with limited resources,” Appleton City Traffic Engineer Eric Lom said in the release. “This application will help the city fully comply with the FHWA mandate and improve the efficiency of our operations.”

The GIS-based sign inventory system will use the expected sign life method, which calculates the known sign retro-reflectivity deterioration rates for combinations of sign sheeting color and sheeting type. Signs will be replaced before they reach the end of their expected life, which the GIS-based sign inventory system will track based on deterioration rates and sign life.

“This two-pronged [Web and mobile] solution will become a repeatable framework for other cities and counties looking for a system to support the [Federal Highway Administration] retro-reflectivity standards,” said Michael Healander, GISi state and local government general manager.

The system is currently under development, Stewart said, but Appleton should have a demo by late October, with implementation set to kick in November.

“You’ve been on a road late at night and you’ve pulled up to a sign that you could hardly see or you didn’t see until the last second,” he said. “Well, that’s because the reflectivity had worn off — so the benefit is public safety.”

GISi teamed with Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Science (RS&GIS), which will provide the data collection for the project. Appleton City Traffic Engineer Eric Lom could not be reached by deadline.

Karen Wilkinson  |  Staff Writer