Construction sign alphabet soup

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

A few weeks ago on the road to Rochester, Roadguy encountered this construction sign:


Now, Roadguy knows what a “C.S.A.H.” is because it’s his full-time job to know such things (he even knows people who pronounce it “kuh-SAH”). But I had to wonder: Is this understandable to your everyday motorist who isn’t familiar with the details of state highway funding and is driving by at 70 miles per hour?

On the one hand, I get that the state might want some credit for the county roads it helps fund. That’s what a C.S.A.H. is — a “county state aid highway,” like County Road 42 in Burnsville. But normal people mostly just call it County Road 42.

So my question for today is directed at the normal people: Did you already know what a C.S.A.H. (or M.S.A.S.) was when you first got up this morning? Should construction signs aim for the vernacular? Or should the general public make a point to inform itself about such things? Share your thoughts (and other potentially confounding abbreviations) below.

Mailbag: Another rock, another windshield

Friday, May 30th, 2008

Alert reader Joe G has a question about stuff flying off trucks:

I unfortunately again this week found myself the victim of a shower of errant sand and pebbles from a gravel-hauling truck, and although my encounter with it was only fleeting, it has left a continual reminder in the form of a circular chip in my otherwise beautiful windshield.

I wasn’t tailgating, I wasn’t even going in the same direction, so I certainly don’t think it was my fault. But, if I did a u-turn to chase down the truck for a license plate number, etc., I probably would have gotten pelted with much more. And even if I had succeeded, I don’t know that it would have ever resulted in getting my windshield fixed.

So even though it’s too late for me, my question for the thread would be… Are haulers responsible for this kind of damage? Are they required to cover loads that are prone to being blown around? A co-worker of mine saw a motorcyclist get sandblasted in a similar way this past week as well, so it’s certainly a safety issue. Probably a question for the state patrol, but maybe others have some insight.

Roadguy was planning to call a state trooper about this on Thursday, but my colleagues were already tying up the State Patrol’s phone lines because of this story about the latest teen driving tragedy. If things ease up today, I’ll see what I can find out. In the meantime, please add your knowledge, thoughts and ventings below.

Mailbag: Hand-drawn merge signs and a bit of ‘bacon’

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Alert reader Jim has used a mix of technologies — e-mail and an old-fashioned sketch — to ask a signage question:

I’ve attached a crude drawing of some road signs. The top two make sense to me and are commonly used. The lower left sign is also commonly used, but it surely does not make sense when compared to the top two. I don’t know if the bottom right would be a logical sign to use when two lanes merge, but I like it.


(When Roadguy was a kid, he thought of the sign at the lower left as “bacon,” because it looked to him like two strips frying.)

I forwarded Jim’s e-mail to Heather Lott, signage maven at the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Heather gets some interesting correspondence — she once had a citizen send her a PowerPoint presentation on signs, complete with cars that moved. “I wanted to hire the guy,” she told me last week.

Heather’s thoughts on the signs above:

The top left sign is a MERGE sign, the top right is an ADDED LANE sign. The bottom signs are used for warning traffic that the lane is ending. The sign he drew on the lower left is actually no longer a federally recognized sign.

Perhaps the feds have decided that promoting bacon is bad for public health. Heather says Minnesota has some options for replacing the out-of-favor signs.

MnDOT policy is to use the “RIGHT/LEFT LANE ENDS” and “LANE ENDS MERGE LEFT/RIGHT” signs. We are doing this on State Highways through attrition. You may still see the older versions out on the roads since the compliance date is 2013.

So, Jim has good transportation instincts (as many people named Jim do).

Deconstructing the hardhat color code

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Here’s my column from the Sunday paper. If you’ve already read it elsewhere, please skip on down to the comments below. Thanks.


Roadguy is not a fashion columnist, yet alert reader Mike has a question about hats:

At the 35W bridge construction site, I have noticed several distinct hardhat colors (yellow, orange, green, red, white, etc). I have been wondering if these hardhat colors have any specific meanings, or if it is completely random, and up to the worker’s favorite color.

Roadguy is always given a green hat to wear when he’s down at the site, and Kevin Gutknecht, a Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman, says there is in fact something of a code.

Green hats are given to new workers or visitors; after 90 days, the workers get red ones. Supervisors from Flatiron Constructors tend to wear white hats, while the Figg Engineering folks lean toward blue and MnDOT prefers orange.

There are exceptions and variations, of course. And Gutknecht said a yellow hat could belong to a subcontractor or an inspector. (Or perhaps it just matches the wearer’s socks.)


Alert reader LeRoy has a question about freeway signs that say things like “Hemlock Lane — 1 mile.”

In many states, LeRoy says, the little part of the sign showing the exit number will be attached on the right side of the sign if the exit is on the right, and attached on the left if the exit is on the left.

“One state that does not do this is Minnesota,” he writes. “Why not?”

Federal guidelines call for the exit plaque, as it’s sometimes called, to correspond to the side of the freeway that the ramp will be on, said Heather Lott, a MnDOT signage maven. Minnesota hasn’t always done it that way — they’re often in the center — but is in the process of moving the panels, she said.


After last week’s item on the disappearance of Hwy. 65 from downtown Minneapolis, a few alert readers noted that Hwy. 55 also has departed.

Indeed. When sections of state highways no longer serve as real trunk routes, they’re often turned over to cities or counties. (And, really, who from Eagan would take Hwy. 55 all the way to Plymouth when Interstate 494 is speedier?)

So Hwy. 55 is now in two parts: Olson Highway and points west, and Hiawatha Avenue and points southeast.

On the Olson end, there are a few signs directing Hwy. 55 traffic onto I-94, but if you’re heading north on Hiawatha, there’s nothing similar — 55 just evaporates. Lott says there isn’t room for more signs at that spot, where Hiawatha splits into a tangle of roads.

Some streets are on a high-sodium diet

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Spring street sweeping starts today in Minneapolis, and that’s a good thing, because while Roadguy was driving across town on Sunday, he happened upon this:


Two miles to the east on the same street were these:


With all the concern about the impact of road salt on both vehicles and the environment, it was a bit dismaying to see random piles on the pavement, especially with the lack of snow in the forecast. I called the city and asked whether these sorts of spills should be reported to 311; when I hear back, I’ll let you know what they say.

I think it was last spring that a small berm of salt appeared on the ramp to westbound I-94 behind the Convention Center. It took weeks for it to dissolve; let’s hope these new piles get vacuumed up instead.

Also, Roadguy must acknowledge that he isn’t 100 percent sure that it’s salt, as he refused to taste it:


So perhaps it was rock candy. Either way, it can’t be too good for your set of wheels.

Rear window = obstructed view?

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

You may have seen this story from a few days ago, in which a driver was cited four times for having a giant decal in the rear window of his car. Roadguy is generally opposed to anything that makes driving more complicated than necessary, and being able to see out one’s rear window can be pretty darn helpful.

The article reminded me that, a few weeks ago, I encountered one of those drivers who think it’s a great idea to turn the back of one’s car into a toy store:


(A little hard to tell with the solar glare, but you can probably make out the doll heads and get the idea.)

Roadguy is not opposed to vehicular self-expression, but this car had self-expression covered elsewhere — it had both a “Jesus” fish and a “Satan” sticker. Decals on the trunk seem much wiser than blocking one’s sightlines. If you agree, or if you are quite proud of the Beanie Babies that peek out the back of your Saturn, share a thought or two in the comments below.