The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) defines the standards and requirements for traffic control devices for roadways including signage and pavement markings. These standards and requirements are essentially the "rules of the road" and are published by the FHWA in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). State and local government and governmental agencies such as state departments of transportation (DOT) and county and municipal departments of public works are required by law to follow the MUTCD.
The FHWA updates the MUTCD periodically relying on input from research studies and organizations such as the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (National Committee). The National Committee is an organization that states its purpose as the following:
1. "Assists in the development of standards,…and practices…to regulate, warn and guide traffic on streets and highways."
2. "Recommends to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and to other agencies proposed revisions and interpretations to the MUTCD and other accepted national standards."
3. "Develops public and professional awareness of the principles of safe traffic control devices and practices and provides a forum for qualified individuals with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints to exchange professional information." The latest edition of the MUTCD was published as a final rule in the Federal register on December 16, 2009. This edition of the MUTCD is the largest ever and contains nine parts and 864 pages.
The MUTCD Is Now Applicable to Private Roads
The latest edition of the MUTCD has specific language that now extends these requirements to "private roads open to public travel." That means that all of the requirements for public roads are now requirements for private roads. The MUTCD defines "private roads open to public travel" as "…private toll roads and roads (including any adjacent sidewalks that generally run parallel to the road) within shopping centers, airports, sports arenas, and other similar business and/or recreation facilities that are privately owned, but where the public is allowed to travel without access restrictions. Roads within private gated properties (except for gated toll roads) where access is restricted at all times, parking areas, driving aisles within parking areas, and private grade crossings shall not be included in this definition."
The National Committee has established a task force to provide further guidance to the FHWA as it relates to standards and guidelines for parking lots and facilities. There will also be additional clarification as to requirements for the wide crosswalks in front of the large scale retailers and grocers. Again, although there is still some further clarification on the requirements for parking spaces and aisle ways, it is important to note that the ring roads as well as roads within parking areas or shopping facilities must now comply with the MUTCD.
The Business Opportunity
Simply put, the applicability of the MUTCD to private roadways means that many of the signs and markings that are currently in use in shopping, recreational and business facilities are not in compliance with the very specific standards defined by the MUTCD. The responsibility for conforming to the MUTCD lies with the property owner or government official having jurisdiction. However, as providers of marking and signage services to these clients, knowing some of the basic requirements of the MUTCD could provide pavement contractors with value added business opportunities. Gleaning some of the most critical elements from the MUTCD's nearly 900 pages is a major undertaking for anyone, so here are a few of the most relevant requirements for signs and markings: