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:
Signs: "Regulatory, warning and guide signs and object markers shall be retroreflective (see section 2A.08) or illuminated…" Please note that this is a "shall" statement and therefore a Standard.
"Uniformity in design shall include shape, color, dimensions, legends, borders, and illumination or retroreflectivity." Please note that this is a "shall" statement and therefore a Standard. This means that design, size, and color must be according to the MUTCD.
"Detailed drawings of standard signs, object markers, alphabets, symbols, and arrows…are shown in the Standard Highway Signs and Markings book."
Markings: "Markings that must be visible at night shall be retroreflective…" Please note that this is a "shall" statement and therefore a Standard.
"A single solid yellow line shall not be used as a center line marking on a two-way roadway." "Two-direction no-passing zone markings consisting of two normal solid yellow lines where crossing the center line markings for passing is prohibited for traffic traveling in either direction." Please note that this is a "shall" statement and therefore a Standard.
"Consideration should be given to selecting pavement marking materials that will minimize tripping or loss of traction for road users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists."
Turn the Opportunity into Business
If you are a pavement contractor that is involved with providing signs or pavement marking services, you can capitalize on these new requirements by taking the following action:
1. Familiarize yourself with the basic requirements of the MUTCD (chapters 1-General, 2-Signs, and 3-Markings are most relevant) in addition to the state and local codes for your area.
This information can be easily accessed online at www.mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov. Printed partial editions of the MUTCD can be purchased from the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) at www.atssa.org.
For assistance in reviewing this information, you can contact your city, county, or state traffic engineering department. You can also contact a reliable vendor of marking or signage products to assist you in understand the requirements of the MUTCD thoroughly.
2. Evaluate the products and services that you provide to ensure that they are in compliance with the requirements of the MUTCD. Review the materials that you use for signage and markings to ensure that you are providing your customers with the best value. Make sure that signage is the right color, shape, and size and that it is mounted in the correct location. For markings, ensure that the stencils that you are using create a marking that is solid with no breaks and that it is of the right dimensions.
3. The type of materials used to create signs and markings is not specified in the MUTCD. However, it is critical to note that the difference in materials can mean meeting Federal "performance" requirements or not. When it comes to performance and value, the cheapest materials are not necessarily the most cost effective. Again, you can consult your state DOT or a reliable vendor to help you select the best performing materials. Most DOTs establish a qualified product list for durable markings such as hot-applied thermoplastic, preformed thermoplastic, and a variety of plural component materials and post these online. If you prefer to see original test data, you can also see the results of sign and marking products that have been placed on the National Transportation Product Evaluation Program's (NTPEP) "national" test decks at www.ntpep.org.
4. Let your clients and prospects know about the new federal regulations, why they are important, and why you offer products and services that are in compliance:
- Improves safety and increases uniformity for drivers and pedestrians.
- Reduces liability resulting from traffic accidents on properties that have traffic control devices that are not in compliance.
- Saves them money and possible litigation in the long run, and gains you a trusted business partner.
Reaching your clients is best done through their preferred means, whether that is e-mail, telephone, or in person. For reaching prospects, it is best to use a multi-point approach:
- Obtain the contact information for your targeted audience, i.e. commercial property owners. This information is usually readily available from industry associations, local chamber of commerce, or online resources.
- E-mail (if possible) or mail an introductory letter to inform them about the federal regulations and your firm's ability to provide compliant services. Again, this information is readily available and certain industry organizations may even provide fliers to facilitate your efforts. Utilize as many local photographic examples as possible.
- Follow up your e-mail or mail with a phone call and attempt to schedule a personal visit. Get to know the prospect's needs. The best time to recommend a change is when they are repaving or resurfacing.
- If you have been unsuccessful, through e-mail/mail or telephone, make a personal visit to the prospect's facility. If you do not get to see your prospect, leave behind the information along with a handwritten note and your business card.
5. Additionally, when quoting jobs or performing work, notify your clients when it appears that the requested service does not comply with the MUTCD. Having a good understanding of the basic requirements is not difficult and you will quickly be able to identify gross non-compliance. Again, although it is the property owner's responsibility to understand and abide by the requirements, it is just good business practice to recommend compliance.
6. Finally, look carefully around your service area and you will find hundreds of opportunities to bring value to your clients and prospects by informing them of the requirements and recommending compliance with the MUTCD. Some of the "private roads open to public travel" include but are not limited to shopping centers, apartment complexes, office parks, airports, toll roads, military bases, golf courses, sports arenas, educational facilities, and manufacturing sites.
Federal regulations are often looked at as impediments to business. In this case, the new federal regulations can enhance your company's business opportunities. As a pavement professional you can take your knowledge of these regulations and provide true value added service to your marketplace. At the same time, you will not only be serving your customers well but you will be improving the safety and the quality of the experience for all of private road users.
Finally, all of this information is publicly available through the federal government and many industry organizations; therefore, the opportunity is not a secret. However, there will only be a few pavement contractors that understand the opportunity available to them. Even fewer will actually apply the resources necessary to turn the opportunity into business. If you are interested in being one of few, review this article again, visit the referenced websites, and take action.
For additional information and an online version of the MUTCD visit the FHWA's MUTCD website at www.mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov.
For printed field versions of the MUTCD and other traffic safety information visit the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) website at www.atssa.com.
For sign and pavement materials information, contact your state DOT, visit your state DOT website, or visit the National Transportation Product Evaluation Program (NTPEP) website at www.ntpep.org.
Dan Lang currently serves as Vice President of Business Development with Flint Trading Inc. Mr. Lang has over 25 years of global experience in the traffic safety industry. He has held executive positions for companies such as Avery Dennison, Inc., Stimsonite Corp., and Swarco AG. Mr. Lang is active with a number of industry organizations including NTPEP, NCUTCD, and ATSSA, where he is a member of both their Pavement Marking and Government Relations Committees. You can contact Mr. Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org.