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Utah drivers seeing more message signs along roads and freeways

SALT LAKE CITY — Electronic roadway signs aren’t just for traffic control. From urgent public information to the occasional pun, the number of the Utah Department of Transportation’s (UDOT) “Variable Message Signs” is growing to handle the demands of the state.

UDOT’s VMS aid drivers daily with important information on crashes, road conditions and delays.  But their usefulness doesn’t stop there.  These signs also help in emergencies, such as alerting drivers to Amber Alerts, poor air quality and avalanche warnings.

So, what goes on the signs? “We have a hierarchy where emergencies take precedence. Amber Alerts and other urgent life-saving messages are a priority,” said UDOT spokesman John Gleason. 

The number of VMS has increased along with the rapid growth of Utah’s traffic.   

More message signs statewide

 “A handful of these signs were installed in the Salt Lake Valley prior to the 2002 Winter Olympics, but we’ve continued to install more signs statewide as an important part of Utah’s traffic management system,” Gleason said.

Most drivers see them on busy freeways like Interstate 15.  But there are 55 smaller variable message signs found on surface streets, 15 speed limit signs and 25 in the chain-up areas. There are 190 signs in the state, including the 110 located on Utah’s five freeways. 

Gleason added, “Other states have contracts with electrical contractors to install and maintain their VMS signs because it takes a very specific skill. UDOT has its own in-house staff to maintain them.”

Signs can be fun, too

The changing message signs can also add a touch of fun to a driver’s day.  The workers at UDOT’s Traffic Operations Center will brainstorm and create lighthearted messages to help drivers through a rough commute. 

“We are glad they make people laugh, while also educating them to drive more safely and make changes as needed. We know zero fatalities can be achieved by making one simple change to our behavior daily, like not texting, buckling up or not driving distracted,” Gleason said

Utah has one of the largest DOT-owned fiber networks in the country. And it’s working to expand and connect to sensors and install new VMS across the state to get road condition and safety information to drivers when and where they need it Gleason added.

UDOT has also installed some newer signs that have greater capability for full-color graphics. UDOT will operate each similarly until they have upgraded more of the boards statewide.