Imagine driving down a rural county highway in the middle of the night during a torrential downpour. Frustrated and tired, straining eyes search through diminished visibility for those sparsely placed, barely legible signs that guide motorists toward the relative security of the well-lit freeway. This is the scene of an accident waiting to happen.

Camden County in southern New Jersey maintains more than 400 miles of county roadways that traverse urban, suburban and rural areas totaling 223 square miles. Like most roadways in this state, Camden County roads were designed during an earlier era when high traffic capacity was not a requirement. Many signs along county roads, therefore, are outdated and inadequate.

Poor signage is not unique to New Jersey. According to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reports, no less than half of all signs on U.S. roadways are substandard in terms of legibility and visibility. In an era when tort liability claims against governments are at an all-time high, aggressive sign management is a logical step towards effective risk management. The upgrade of traffic control devices is considered by FHWA to be one of the most effective ways to protect the motoring public. A 1996 report issued by FHWA recommends improved signage as a means for reducing driver confusion and uncertainty, a leading cause in traffic accidents. The report estimates that for every dollar invested in signage, $22.40 will be saved in accident costs. Other benefits include improved traffic flow, decreased congestion and reduction in unnecessary travel. All of these positive outcomes contribute to a cleaner, safer environment as well.

The Camden County Sign Management Program is a systematic, life-cycle approach to design, install, replace, repair and maintain the county’s traffic signs. The program consists of four distinct phases:

1. Asset inventory and system development

2. Engineering (work assessment and work definition)

3. Manufacturing, refurbishing and installation

4. Maintenance

The heart of the program is the Sign and Signal Management System (S&SMS), a GIS-based asset management system. The Sign Management Program relies on the S&SMS for the successful and timely accomplishment of all its phases.

The System’s Insides

The basis of the Sign and Signal Management System (S&SMS) is a detailed inventory of every traffic sign (warning, regulatory and guide) on county roads. The inventory not only includes signs under the jurisdiction of Camden County but the state and municipality as well. More than 25,000 signs have been identified, assessed and recorded. A total of 375 signalized intersections were inventoried for future monitoring and reference as well.

Centralized database

The Camden County S&SMS is a centralized database, which resides on a PC-based computer network located at the Camden County DPW complex in Lindenwold, N.J. Every sign, signal controller and support is defined as a discrete record comprising the following information:

Traffic Signs

  • MUTCD (Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices) sign designation

  • Vertical and lateral distances

  • Sign dimensions

  • Type of sign support

  • Locations: GPS coordinates

  • Digital photograph

  • Record or serial number

    Traffic Signals

  • Support location and type

  • Controller location

  • Signal head configuration

  • Mast arm lengths

  • Existence of signage

  • Digital photograph

  • Record or serial number

  • Presence of detectors

  • Location of pullboxes

  • Locations: GPS coordinates

The sign and signal database serves as a central repository of information for use by other county departments, agencies and municipal governments. S&SMS serves as an excellent source of information for the adjudication of claims against the county and other litigious matters.

CartéGraph’s SIGNview software tracks and maintains elements of Camden County's signs.

Off-the-shelf software

Camden County’s Sign and Signal Management System utilizes two off-the-shelf software packages on its network operating system. The first software package includes CartéGraph’s (Dubuque, Iowa) SIGNview and SIGNALview asset management software programs, which store and maintain the sign and signal inventories.

The software simplifies data entry through predefined forms, online libraries, user-defined fields, filters and reports. The program allows Camden County to track the history, maintenance, inventory and management of signs and signals.

Attachments can be added to each sign and signal record from digital cameras and scanners, and other sources. The software also has the ability to input data from bar code scanners, GPS receivers and retroreflectometers to create a complete assessment of the field asset.

Camden County took into consideration that the software can incorporate modules for other infrastructure items such as roadways, pavement segments, bridges, lights, and water and sewer components. Each of these programs was designed with the same user interface as the SIGNview and SIGNALview applications.

The second off-the-shelf software package used involves both of CartéGraph’s MAPdirector modules and ESRI’s (Redlands, Calif.) ArcView program. ArcView, the most popular desktop GIS software in the world today, provides a solution for GIS analysis and map presentation. The MAPdirector for ArcView extension enables full GIS functionality to SIGNview and SIGNALview through a dynamic link to ArcView.

The importance of asset management software is evident in light of recent state DOT requirements to implement transportation asset management systems. Camden County has realized the advantages of using off-the-shelf software because it eliminates the need to “reinvent the wheel” with custom programming efforts. An important thing to consider in choosing an asset management system is to find a vendor with reliable technical support and maintenance programs, which both CartéGraph and ESRI have proven track records in.

Sign readings and attributes are entered into a pen computer.

Data collection capabilities

The mainstay of the S&SMS data collection is a Pentium pen computer. Very lightweight and somewhat smaller than a laptop, it runs Windows 98 and is loaded with SIGNview, SIGNALview and MAPdirector software modules. A digital camera, retroreflectometer, GPS receiver and bar code scanner comprise the peripheral equipment required to identify, assess and record traffic control assets. Camden County maintains three full sets of hardware and software for field data collection.

Greenman-Pedersen Inc., Lebanon, N.J., under contract to the Camden County DPW, provided the initial fieldwork for the S&SMS. Prior to commencing the inventory, Greenman-Pedersen Inc. (GPI) developed the System Design and Report in conjunction with the Camden County engineer and the project manager. GPI utilized ESRI shapefiles provided by the Delaware Valley Regional Commission (DVRPC) to develop a GIS base of the Camden County roadway system. This layer was further improved through the GPS collection of county road centerlines.

The field crew first enters the federal MUTCD code of the sign into the pen computer and then labels the sign with a unique bar code label. The team then inspects and records material condition followed by a retroreflectometer reading to establish the reflective quality of each sign. While at the sign location, the crew obtains a coordinate from a real-time differential GPS receiver. The field crew concludes its inspection with a digital photo of the asset. At the end of the day, the data is subjected to a quality assurance review before it is downloaded into the central database.

To maintain the validity of the sign and signal inventory, a two-man field crew is designated to systematically travel the county roadway system. The team identifies and records any changes to traffic control assets covered by the S&SMS. Updates are entered immediately and automatically recorded in the history log. The sign shop supervisor also carries a pen computer (with peripherals) to record the results of work in progress. In this manner, S&SMS updates are dynamic and timely enough to be considered almost interactive.

An ESRI ArcView extension, part of the CartéGraph suite, provides full GIS functionality.

Budgeting, scheduling and tracking

The real power of S&SMS resides in its ability to provide timely and accurate information to support decision-making. The database is queried to identify, classify and prioritize signage assets for future replacement, repair or upgrade. Future work on county signage is thereby defined using a thorough, accurate process.

For its work order management implementation, Camden County utilizes another CartéGraph product called WORKdirector. This module is used to develop, budget, schedule and track work orders based on the information contained in specific sign and signal database queries. Work orders are issued and/or updated either by hard copy or electronic means in the field. Whenever maintenance is performed on an asset, the activity is automatically recorded and dated in a history log.

Compatibility with state DOT Asset Management Systems

The Camden County S&SMS is designed to enable compatibility with the NJDOT Linear Referencing System (LRS). LRS is an embedded routine that calculates accurate linear data for traffic control assets using a dynamic segmentation model algorithm. The calculated LRS data is stored as an ESRI shapefile and as part of the SIGNview inventory record.

Who are the Partners?

The Camden County Sign Management Program would not have been possible without the support of the FHWA, DVRPC and the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT). The Commission, of which Camden County is a member, provides regional planning support to the membership of the Delaware Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization. The DVRPC Regional Transportation Committee reviews and recommends competitive proposals, submitted by its members, for federal funding in the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

The Sign Management Program was enthusiastically endorsed by DVRPC. A $1.6 million grant was awarded to the Camden County Freeholder Board by FHWA. Of this total, $711,000 was earmarked for the initial asset inventory and system development. The sign management grant is administered by NJDOT.

As Camden County forges ahead with this important program, its success lies in saving lives and taxpayers’ dollars.

Sidebar:

The Sign and Signal Management System (S&SMS) provides an important, powerful tool for planning and tracking the work objectives of the Camden County Sign Management Program in New Jersey. Through this decision support system, county management is able to implement and maintain effective transportation asset management for the benefit and safety of Camden County motorists and taxpayers.

In addition to the obvious benefits of safety and cost-savings, S&SMS provides supplemental advantages for taxpayers such as:

  • A permanent, historical record of traffic sign and signal assets

  • An asset management system that can be easily expanded to include other county highway assets

  • A management system with an outstanding capacity for planning, budgeting and scheduling personnel/material resources

  • A GIS-based, user-friendly information resource for locating and researching highway traffic control assets

  • An improved roadway appearance from easily legible traffic signage

  • Reduced liability of Camden County for traffic accidents