Wednesday, September 2, 2020

State Route Change Needed: GA 2 in Murray and Gilmer Counties

Occasionally Georgia's highway system needs adjusting, and for some reason an obvious change never happens.  It seems that in the past 20 years that status quo has become the rule instead of the exception, and in many cases this just does not make sense.  An instance of this is GA 2 in Murray County.  It is of note that the current route of GA 2 was designated around 1950 and its route is reflected on its previous unimproved route through what is now the Cohutta Wilderness.  Because of this, GA 2 as an independent routing ends in the Cisco community at US 411.  This results in a dogleg that takes GA 2 out of the way if the route is correctly followed from its overlap with US 411 from Chatsworth to Varnell.  Furthermore, GA 2 east of Chatsworth takes a hair-raising route across Fort Mountain that is similarly unsuitable for a state highway routing, and a long-range alternative is discussed to alleviate that in this plan.

WEST OF US 411

If you look at GDOT's functional classification map, this is an anomaly that needs to be corrected. The shortest and best route is Halls Chapel Road, a county road that connects to GA 2 at GA 225 on the west end and US 411 on the east end serving as a continuation of GA 2 for those who know about it.  What is not so obvious, however, is that Halls Chapel Road is ALSO a cutoff from US 411 to GA 225 en route to Cleveland, TN.  Furthermore, Halls Chapel Road was previously designated a minor arterial (since inexplicably downgraded to major collector) while the portion of GA 2 between Cisco and GA 225 is a major collector, a classification that makes it a farm-to-market road.  It would make sense if GA 2 continued east of there, but much of Old GA 2 is a dirt road with a permanently closed portion.  It was also downgraded to a functionally local road on all but a portion near Blue Ridge.  The project that once existed to pave it into a two lane highway was canceled over 40 years ago, and the only reminder of it today is the name.


Driving north on US 411, this fictional sign indicates all the destinations that one could reach using Halls Chapel Road as a cutoff to GA 2 and GA 225.  The current route of GA 2 provides none of these.  The field on the right is now the inland port under construction, and new turn lanes are being constructed in the area making it easier for left-turning traffic to use Halls Chapel Road (Image from Google Street View)

Halls Chapel Road is somewhat longer than the current route of GA 2.  The current route east of GA 225 is 2.3 miles long while Halls Chapel is 4.1 miles.  This means that a net gain of 1.8 miles is needed to shift the highway south from its current route.  With the mileage cap, the only logical option in the county itself is to use the mileage transferred from the eventual relocation of US 76/GA 282 to a more direct connection to US 411 given that the county has few other suitable options for mileage transfers: in fact, more routes are actually needed including a southwestern by-pass of Chatsworth.


Google Maps not only shows Halls Chapel Road as the shortest and best route for GA 2, but the current route is not even recommended as an alternative.


This older GDOT functional classification map has Halls Chapel Road labeled as a minor arterial while the current GA 2 east of GA 225 is a major collector.  For some reason, this designation was downgraded to major collector on Halls Chapel Road since this map was published.  This map also shows the convoluted routing quite clearly.

Perhaps in the interim, GDOT could pay for a traffic study for Halls Chapel Road to upgrade the signage to proper MUTCD standards while also installing guide signs to direct GA 2 traffic onto the road itself.  In addition, a major intersection improvement is needed where GA 2 joins GA 225 to both eliminate the sharp angles leading into the intersection.  Other improvements needed at the intersection include either a traffic circle or turn lanes with a traffic signal.  While it could not carry the GA 2 signage in that instance, it could at least get signage in place for when mileage comes available.  Instances like this, however, are why a sliding mileage cap based on system growth is much preferred to this barter system.  Existing GA 2 east of GA 225 would then transfer to Murray County, and traffic north and west of Chatsworth would then have a proper state route to reach Varnell, Ringgold, and Cleveland, TN.

In addition, traffic on Halls Chapel Road is bound to increase considering that at the very eastern end of the road where it junctions with US 411, an inland port is under construction: basically a large rail yard where previously it was just a field.  It is currently banned for trucks, but it is the most direct route meaning that if the truck ban were lifted, it would be the primary truck route from the inland port at U.S. 411 to Cleveland and I-75.  Considering all of these factors, it should be a high priority to move GA 2 from its current route into Cisco onto Halls Chapel Road: a change that could get better funding to remove the truck restriction and improve on the roadway's maintenance.

EAST OF US 411

The failure of GA 2 to get constructed east of US 411 over Cowpen Mountain does not mean that a better route was not needed.  The current route of GA 2 is an extremely steep and dangerous road that carries a truck advisory, and it is not for the faint of heart with its lack of guardrails and sheer drop-offs in places: sometimes on both sides of the road.  In fact, it is substandard enough that GDOT decided to relocate US 76 onto GA 282 south of Chatsworth in 1982 as a means of discouraging through and truck traffic along the road around Fort Mountain.  Its only reason to remain on the state highway system is due to lack of options, tourism, maintenance costs, and Fort Mountain State Park.  If a suitable alternative existed, the highway could potentially be closed along the steepest parts west of the park and converted to a multi-use trail.

However, for decades an alternative has existed that has not ever been finished out.  Dubbed Old CCC Camp Road, this road was rebuilt to highway standards for 5 miles east of Eton around 50 years ago.  It was also paved for 1.2 miles on the east end in Gilmer County (known there as Conasauga Road) about a decade later.  Like the route over Fort Mountain, it is a major collector.  However, in order for it to become a new location of GA 2, it would need paving and reconstruction along a 7.2 mile stretch extending from east of Holly Creek-Cool Springs Road to Shakerag Road in Gilmer County.  While it is technically a forest route, it does serve as a road for through traffic and is wide enough to accommodate an upgrade into a paved two-lane highway along its existing alignment with fewer hairpin turns than the current route has.  It is also an extremely scenic route offering excellent views of Holly Creek gorge along its length.  In order to preserve its character, it should be reconstructed to Blue Ridge Parkway-type standards with no edge lines, narrower lanes, wooden signposts, wooden guardrails, natural stone-faced bridges/culverts, and minimal cut/fill.  In addition, commercial traffic should be banned from that portion of the highway similar to the current route over Fort Mountain.  The improvement to Holly Creek gorge could help enhance local tourism as well as providing better access to recreation areas in the nearby Cohutta Wilderness.


Old CCC Camp Road from Eton up to the national forest boundary is built to full highway standards based on construction standards for around 1970.  With a few upgrades (such as the guardrails visible), this could be a suitable relocation for GA 2.


Beyond the forest boundary, the road is unpaved for about six miles.  It does not have to be completely overhauled given that it is a fairly wide and well-constructed gravel road meaning it can just be paved, graded, a couple bridges reconstructed, and made into a decent part of GA 2.

As a longer term project, this road would provide a safer, less steep alternative to Ellijay, would help make driving GA 2 not so far out of the way, and it would separate the route from GA 52 for a considerable distance.  However, with a mileage gain of 13.4 miles, the route might be a tough sell.  About the only logical candidate anywhere nearby that could function for a mileage swap would be GA 156 east of I-75 between Calhoun and Ranger.  GA 156 in that area, however, does not really go anywhere nor has any traffic.  It is a relic route that was effectively replaced by the extension of GA 136 to Resaca in 1977.


A clip from the most current GDOT map showing where the proposed new routes of GA 2 are.  The northern route from U.S. 411 to GA 225 is currently Halls Chapel Road.  Note the orange line where current GA 2 is.  The southern route from U.S. 411 in Eton to GA 2 just over the Gilmer County line is Old CCC Camp Road and Conasauga Road.  Paving and upgrades will be required along a portion of that route for this route change to take place.  It is unclear how this would affect other area state routes.

A JUSTIFIABLE CHANGE

The case to move GA 2 was hopefully made effectively  The reasons given were as follows for each part.

  1. Halls Chapel Road
    • Cutoff from US 411 to Cleveland, TN
    • More direct route for GA 2 from US 411 to Varnell and Ringgold
    • Current GA 2 east of GA 225 does not go anywhere since GA 2 was closed/decommissioned east of US 411 in 1986
    • It provides direct access to an inland port where US 411 meets Halls Chapel Road
  2. CCC Camp Road/Conasauga Road
    • Existing GA 2 (paired with GA 52) over Fort Mountain is a dangerous and unsuitable highway for through traffic
    • Parts of existing CCC Camp Road and Conasauga Road were rebuilt to highway standards in the early 70's, and it could easily be converted
    • It provides a more direct route for GA 2 as well as a safer alternative if the 7.2 mile unpaved section is reconstructed
With these reasons, it makes sense to move GA 2 onto these roads: first with Halls Chapel and later with CCC Camp Road/Conasauga Road.  The change in these routes make sense functionally and economically and should be put into motion as soon as feasibly possible.

The Case for Eliminating US 23 in Georgia

Georgia already has mass confusion with its refusal to remove state routes pegged to U.S. routes, but not all U.S. routes are exactly important enough to keep.  U.S. 23 in particular is a stepchild in Georgia, and it is pretty much ignored on its entire length through the state.  So why keep it signed?  It is unfortunate as one of the early U.S. routes, but its history has led to it being a wasted placeholder that is adding cost where it isn't justified.  Here are the issues of why U.S. 23 needs to go:

  1. It is not recognized where it overlaps other routes by the public
  2. It largely overlaps other U.S. routes and interstates.
  3. It is not a prominent route for much of its length through the state as well as in three other states.
  4. It largely functions as a surface alternative to interstates where it is prominent.
This list suggests that its future as a highway should be in doubt.  Its removal would likely be unnoticed by all but highway enthusiasts, and it would reduce maintenance costs dramatically by simplifying route assemblies all over the state.  Each section below will be described and why it isn't working out as a route.  It should also be noted that it is not just in Georgia that U.S. 23 has lost prominence.  In North Carolina, it is entirely pegged to other routes now since 2003.  The same goes for Tennessee.  In Florida, it follow U.S. 1.  Why does it still exist south of Virginia aside from history and nostalgia?

THE ISSUES WITH EACH SECTION OF U.S. 23 JUSTIFYING ITS REMOVAL


Dillard to Baldwin

Even though U.S. 23 predates U.S. 441 in the area, it is almost universally ignored as a route.  Old alignments in the area only reference 441, and trailblazers aside from those put up by GDOT do not even mention U.S. 23.  It pretty much is dead in the collective conscience of Northeast Georgia along this section.


GDOT even promoted 441 over US 23 here in Tallulah Falls.  In this area, US 23 is just taking up space along what everyone refers to as US 441.  The old alignment is even called "US 441" almost universally even though US 23 predates US 441 in the area by decades.

Baldwin to Gainesville

This is an unfortunate case where a state overlap causes extreme confusion.  To out of state motorists, this stretch is "U.S. 23".  To locals, this is nothing but Ga. 365.  Only the OLD route is recognized as U.S. 23, and it isn't really identified as such on any signs.  While a strong case of signing the old route as "OLD U.S. 23" can be made, it really is not doing any good having it co-signed with Ga. 365 on that stretch.  If there is a need to keep a U.S. route along that stretch, the solution is to simply extend U.S. 123 to Gainesville having it end at I-985.  In doing this, GDOT could also retire the Ga. 365 designation having it become just US 123.  Renumbering existing Ga. 123 to Ga. 163 per the elimination of state/U.S. route duplication can make this easily possible.  Michigan did something similar in recent years extending U.S. 127 in order to decommission part of U.S. 27.  Using the "OLD" routes plan would help alleviate any confusion so that the decommissioned old alignments of U.S. 23 get signed as "OLD US 23".  Since Ga. 365 is routed to follow U.S. 123 and NOT U.S. 23 to Toccoa, making this change even makes more sense.


In this map, US 123 is extended southwest to end at I-985 in Gainesville, replacing U.S. 23 on the portion where it does not overlap any other U.S. routes and follows current SR 365.  SR 365 would be decommissioned in favor of temporarily placing SR 123 as a secret state overlap until all state routes overlapping U.S. routes and state route numbers duplicating U.S. route numbers are phased out/renumbered.  The intent here, however, is the removal of U.S. 23 entirely in Georgia.

"OLD" route treatment, which would keep the U.S. 23 designation alive on the old route from Gainesville to Baldwin.  This is partly needed for the purpose of clearing confusion at to the status of U.S. 23: especially when U.S. 123 is extended.

Gainesville to Buford

U.S. 23 pretty much is only signed here, because it would otherwise create a gap in the route.  It follows I-985 from the end of the interstate to Ga. 20 in Buford, and it is not recognized at all.  The old route remains a state route as Ga. 13, which was the historical state overlap of U.S. 23 from Atlanta to Cornelia.  In fact, it is not even signed with I-985 on this stretch!

Buford to Doraville

U.S. 23 here doglegs along Ga. 20 to follow Ga. 13 into Atlanta.  The problem is, the route through here has lost prominence and has been functionally downgraded.  It is merely an old alignment for I-85, but it is a functional detour if for some reason the interstate is closed.  However, it is already co-signed with Ga. 13 meaning it is still a state route and could simply become just Ga. 13 along that stretch.  If decommissioned, it could likewise also be signed as "OLD U.S. 23" like the stretch north of Gainesville is proposed to be.  Principal traffic movement west of I-85, however, is on currently local Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, and it appears consideration has been made to move Ga. 13 (and U.S. 23) onto this route given it is a faster and wider road that does not go through any downtowns.  If there is a desire to keep a U.S. route number in this case, once again it might make more sense to peg this route as U.S. 123.

Doraville to Decatur

In cities, U.S. routes are usually too congested and slow to serve as alternate routes, and the road is locally known as just "Buford Highway" meaning the public would probably not even notice if U.S. 23 was removed from the route.  While U.S. 23 once went straight into Atlanta, it was rerouted twice.  First it was moved onto Briarcliff Road/Ga. 42 in 1967 then again in 1981 onto Ga. 155 to go into Decatur.  The demand for this route in the area was clearly not established if it was moved twice without any new construction affecting this change.  The need of having U.S. 23 on this part is negligible at best, and its removal would likely have no effect on the area.

Decatur to Atlanta

This is a part of U.S. 23 that is overlapped with U.S. 78 and 278 adding a large cluster of routes where it is not needed.  It would greatly simplify this stretch to remove this extra route.

Atlanta to Jackson

U.S. 23 does have historical prominence in this area, but it has always failed to gain any public recognition.  When it was added to Ga. 42 around 1950-1951, the public ignored this addition.  It has always been referred to as "Highway 42" or by its local names, and it has largely been replaced by other highways south of I-285 including I-75 and I-675.

Jackson to Macon

This was a case where U.S. 23 got relocated, but once again the public failed to notice.  When first designated, U.S. 23 was pegged entirely to Ga. 42 from Atlanta to Forsyth joining U.S. 41 from there to Macon, but Ga. 87 was eventually paved and U.S. 23 finally relocated to that route in 1971.  Like 42, however, the public still identifies that route only by its original state number (87).  It is a lightly traveled route in that area, and it could be adequately served by reverting to just its state route number given that it is generally a longer alternative to I-75 connecting Jackson to the interstate.  If a U.S. route number is still desired, adding Hampton-Locust Grove Road and Bill Gardner Parkway to the state highway system is a potential solution.  In the interim, U.S. 41 could be rerouted onto GA 16 east of Griffin until those roads could be upgraded to state highway standards.  The new route would become either a U.S. 41 Alternate or a new location of U.S. 41 with U.S. 341 extended north to end in Hampton.  The independent parts of U.S. 41 would become just state routes. 



Two potential options for the Hampton-Macon corridor that both involve a change to US 41.  The first option reroutes US 41 entirely onto existing US 23 from Hampton to Macon.  The second option creates a US 41 Alt that keeps most of US 41 on its current route.  Both proposals involve the state taking over Hampton-Locust Grove Road and Bill Gardner Parkway, but that road is not currently in condition to become a state route thus the temporary route along GA 16 for both.  In the first plan, US 341 is extended to cover existing US 41.  US 41 south of Forsyth is downgraded to a state route in both plans, and both renumberings include removal of state overlaps.  GA 41 on the first map will be a duplicate with existing GA 41 for awhile until the other routes can be adjusted.  It is doubtful that the existing US 41 has any effect on traffic patterns south of Griffin.

Macon to Eastman

Of all the sections of U.S. 23 in the state, this one seems like it would be the most difficult to justify removal of.  Even then, it is still prominently known as SR 87 and is overlapped with U.S. 129 Alt down to Cochran, but it is also not a very prominent route anymore since I-16 was constructed.  Unless you have a reason to go to Eastman or Cochran, most traffic is likely to take I-16 to U.S. 441 from McRae eastward. 

Eastman to Hazlehurst

The entire route of U.S. 23 through here is overlapped with U.S. 341, which is a more prominent route in the area as well as a GRIP corridor

Hazlehurst to Jacksonville (FL)

From Hazlehurst to Alma, this is one area that presents a problem in that U.S. 23 has a 19 mile stretch that carries no other U.S. route number, and is the most direct route vs. a much longer route through Baxley.  It does carry Ga. 19, however, which it can use until a better number can be selected (via removal of state overlaps).  However, this one section does not exactly justify keeping U.S. 23, which is mostly overlapped with other U.S. routes otherwise between Macon and Jacksonville.  In fact, of the approximately 235 mile stretch from Macon to Jacksonville, only around 40 miles are not overlapped with another U.S. highway!  How is it justified to keep any part of this route?  It is not shorter in time, and in distance the difference is negligible vs. using interstates or other highways.

Options for the Hazlehurst to Alma section:
  • A portion of GA 68 (as part of a GA 68 extension south from Tennille replacing all of GA 19)
  • Another new route number (best options include GA 131, 217, and 277)
  • A bannered U.S. connector route (U.S. 1 Spur, U.S. 221 Spur)
North Carolina and Tennessee

A similar problem exists to Georgia in North Carolina and Tennessee in that U.S. 23 not only overlaps other routes, but has lost prominence due to interstates.  U.S. 23 from Dillard to Dillsboro is basically just a placeholder with U.S. 441.  It is then a placeholder with U.S. 74 from Dillsboro to Clyde.  From there to Asheville, it is a surface alternative to I-40 and I-240 that is entirely overlapped with U.S. 19.

North of Asheville, U.S. 23 remains in sort of limbo.  Because I-26 has not been made official yet, it is still the official route between Asheville and Mars Hill, but even on THAT part it is still overlapped with U.S. 19.  From Mars Hill to the Tennessee State Line where I-26 officially takes over, U.S. 23 is then just following I-26 with the old route a mix of secondary roads and a dubiously designated "U.S. 23 Alt" where NC stubbornly kept a piece of the old route on system despite low traffic volumes.  Even moreso than GA, U.S. 23 now serves exactly no purpose where it goes through the state aside from its one bannered route.



In Tennessee, the situation is even more dramatic.  Since I-26 was designated along the entirety of what was the U.S. 23 freeway and I-181, it is nothing more than a U.S. route overlapping an interstate.  The entire route of Old U.S. 23 has been decommissioned with the state retaining different sections under state route numbers and other sections turned to local control.  Not until the Virginia border is reached does U.S. 23 finally become a prominent route where I-26 ends.  North of there, it is an APD corridor going into the coalfields of Kentucky.  In fact, the origin of U.S. 23 was in these same coalfields with the extension south coming later.


US 23's stepchild status is highlighted here on this trailblazer assembly on GA 283 near Clermont.  Only the state overlap is shown.

WHAT SHOULD TAKE THE PLACE OF U.S. 23?

The removal of U.S. 23 from Jacksonville to the Virginia border is actually pretty simple overall.  This description lays out the case where most of the highway serves no purpose and should not be signed anymore other than the recognition of some sections with "OLD" route signage along portions of the former route that are still recognized by that number.  "OLD US 23" should be signed along locally-owned portions between Gainesville and Baldwin, in North Carolina north of Asheville and in Tennessee along all county-maintained portions between Sams Gap and the Virginia border.  Otherwise, it should be erased as a route.

Most of the removal of U.S. 23 will simply involve dropping the sign from assemblies with other routes.  In fact, there is no place along the entire highway where a new route number will need to be assigned in its place for that to happen other than U.S. 23 Alt in North Carolina.  This is because in Georgia, the state route numbers are already in place to take over for U.S. 23 while no independent portions remain in Florida, North Carolina, or Tennessee.  Extending U.S. 123 southward along part of U.S. 23 in North Georgia is one option to fill in the gap north of Atlanta, and in South Georgia, state routes with trailblazers should suffice.  Perhaps in the case of the Hazlehurst to Alma section, assigning the road as U.S. 1 Spur might fill the void of the most prominent gap in the route.

While history and nostalgia suggest keeping the route, it has essentially suffered from almost the same fate as U.S. 66 in that it has mostly been outmoded and replaced with other routes to the point where it no longer is functional as a route.  Georgia needs to assign a couple U.S. routes, but in the process it is time to retire one that has long outlived its usefulness.

Monday, February 3, 2020

C'mon GDOT...we can do better with the route signs!

It probably hasn't been hard to notice that signs in Georgia are hard to read and do not look right just on first glance.  At the very least, the numerals are generally way too large for the size of the state outline used, and the text is condensed to the point where it is difficult to read.  The shape of the route sign itself is also a problem, and these issues will be discussed here considering that it is more involved than it appears.


Improper size of route symbols, improper size of three digit route shields, and undersized, condensed fonts are a routine problem on Georgia roads unacknowledged by state authorities.

Even if you don't know why, the fact remains that GDOT has pretty much a non-existent policy on how route signs, especially state, are supposed to look.  Unlike most other states, there is no standard drawing for the Georgia route marker, and U.S. route signs are designed totally wrong along with other noted flaws on interstate signs.  Add in the fact that GDOT doesn't use wider 30" x 24" signs for three digits even though they're trying to squeeze in 12" text, and you can see why it's a problem.  Literally no other state condenses route signs the way Georgia does, and it looks sloppy and unprofessional.  Perhaps GDOT doesn't really care about standards or how it looks, but it is ugly, unprofessional, and hard to read.  If GDOT wants to deliberately make route signs incorrectly, then they should make that a written standard that they are to look exactly like that.  Otherwise, they are not in compliance with the MUTCD.


To prove that there is no real design for route signs, look at these signs here with two different sizes of state outline and how the numbers are at different heights.



More proof can be found in both of these garish contractor installs where clearly no standard was required and no inspection procedure was followed whatsoever.

STATE ROUTE SIGNS

It is rather remarkable that GDOT has literally no official design for the GA route marker.  The state outline has grown and shrunk, contractors have literally have been inventing their own state outline for years (to often grotesque results), and there is nothing to show where to place numbers on the sign, how tall the text should be, what font to use, or anything.  If there was a design, it would be painfully clear that 12" text does not fit as intended into one of these signs.  The state shape simply does not allow 12" text to be used in contrast with more squared-off shapes like what is used in states like Alabama or Arizona.


Older photo showing a contractor install from 2004.  Note that this sign does not have 12" text given it would not fit this crude state outline.

The first step is to throw out EVERY design used since 1995 and to restore the 1967 state outline with some modifications.  This should be the shape used, and it can be modified slightly to add more detail to the state outline, but the fact remains that the state outline from 1967 was perfect, because it was distorted just enough that it preserved the basic outline of the state while being adequately wide enough to fit 10-11" text without condensing the text on a typical 1-2 digit route sign.  However, it should be noted that three digit signs were often shrunk to 7-8" text heights to fit the 24" x 24" blanks: an unfortunate design flaw.  It still looked okay, but it was definitely more difficult to read than a 1-2 digit route sign.  States like NC have to work with a shape that does not allow text at 12" height, so that is to be expected that some concessions have to be made.  Georgia can and should be making route signs that do not heavily condense text to fit a route number, and it can be done either by expanding the sign to a 30" x 24" sign or using shorter text height.  Some adjustments on the state outline to allow more white space would also go a long way to fix this issue.


This image shows the original 1967 design.  While the state shape is not as detailed (nor accurate) as the actual shape of the state, it still properly conveys the state shape and is designed in such a way to effectively fit route numbers.  Also note that the two signs have different text heights based on the numbers.  This is normal, but the use of 7-8" text on the right side could be remedied by expanding the shield to make it 6" wider per the MUTCD.

The oddest trait of Georgia route signs has been the huge difference between contractor installs and maintenance installs.  The layout has been entirely different with the contractor installs employing the proper 30" x 24" shape for 3 digit route signs, and in years past when contractors would work with something close to the 1967 shape, they had no problem fitting 10-11" text into these signs.  In contrast, maintenance crews have insisted on using a 24" x 24" shape that does not fit 3 digits properly.  In the late 90's, they made no modifications to the original sign, but fit in 12" text.


Older contractor install fabricated in the late 1980's.  Note the difference in text height, use of approximate 1967 state outline, wider state outline, and 30" wide sign for 280.  Photo from 2005.

Upon inspection of the 1967 design, there was a noted problem with these signs in that the state outline was a mere 20" x 20" with a 2" offset between the outline and borders.  This did not allow for a text height greater than about 9" without heavily condensing nearly every route number over 1 digit.  US route signs also incorrectly contained this design flaw, and recent ones have incorporated this same flaw making both signs more difficult to read, and they look wrong even to untrained eyes.

The fix to the state route signs is as follows:

1. Restore the 1967 state outline as accurately as possible.  Adding detail is not really important.  The shape as it was is more important.
2. Use a 22" x 22" state outline with a 1" offset all the way around instead of 20" x 20".  23" x 23" was considered to make it closer to MUTCD standards, but this shape had problems with looking distorted: especially with the northwest corner of the state outline touching the corner radius thus why the extra offset is needed.
3. Use 10" text height in Series D font on ground-mounted route signs with 6" between the base of the text and the bottom of the sign.  This aligns the text roughly with US route and interstate route signs.  This vertically centers the text at 11".  11" text height vertically centered at 11.5" may be used for one digit state routes only.
4. Horizontal centering of text should be specific to each route number based on visual centering.
5. On 24" x 24" state route cutouts, add 1" to text height based on all the criteria above (e.g. 11" text height for 10" text height)

Sample route sign dimensions are as follows:


Georgia routes 1-9 may use 11" text in Series D font, but they are otherwise identical in dimensions to the next sign below.


Georgia routes 10-99 should use 10" text in Series D font.  11" may be used, but it would require the text to be more condensed and the font to change to Series C except in numbers that include "1".


Most 3 digit route signs cannot fit 11" text except those that end in "1", thus 10" text should be used on all three digit ground-mounted route signs.  Series C is recommended except for route numbers ending in "1" where Series D use should be used.

10" text as a general rule is preferred, but there are exceptions where 11" text would be best.  This primarily applies to signs where there is only one digit, two digits with one of the numbers "1", and three digits where two of three numbers are "1".  However, the use of 11" text on more than one digit is generally discouraged, because when used in multiple assemblies, it would make route signs posted with 10" text look less important or distorted.  For instance, picture if "115" is in 11 inch text while 52 is in 10 inch text.  If 11" is desired for all two digit route signs, then the font used for each sign would have to be a mix of Series C and Series D fonts with most signs in Series C since Series D does not fit in most cases at 11".  11" text is generally discouraged on most 3 digit route signs since most route numbers 200 and above cannot properly fit text at that height.

Overhead cutout state route shapes using 24" base height should only be slightly different with text increased by 1" for each route number to accommodate more white space and to improve visibility on overhead signage.  Examples of such are below:



Below is an example of how these signs would look in the field on a ground-mounted assembly.  Also notice the arrangement of posts and z-bars, which will be discussed further down.


This mock-up on US 29 (Lawrenceville Hwy) approaching Jimmy Carter Boulevard demonstrates how the Georgia route signs should look.  The state route sign shown has 10" text height, uses the 1967 design, has a 1" offset (22" x 22" state outline), and numbers generally vertically align along the base with interstate and US route signs.  Also note how US route signs are supposed to look.  The state name option on interstate signs appears to be phasing out, but it is still encouraged for use on ground mounted signs (Image modified from Google Street View). 

U.S. ROUTE SIGNS

What gives with what passes for U.S. route signs lately?  This is not a state-optional sign where the state makes up how it's supposed to look unless they specifically design it as such in a state supplement like California did.  No such modification is found in any state supplement (Georgia does not have one), and most contractor installs are correct.  It is the practice of maintenance crews using a 20" x 20" U.S. outline and smaller text that is the issue.  The U.S. route sign should be designed exactly like the MUTCD with 12" text in Series D font vertically centered at 12.5" with 23" x 23" dimensions on the shield outline.  Three digit U.S. routes are supposed to be in a 30" x 24" blank with 29" x 23" dimensions on the shield outline.  No exceptions except for using Series C font where Series D does not always fit on 30" x 24" shields (e.g. routes that do not contain the number "1").  While California does have their own version, it is largely grandfathered and has very specific design requirements in their state supplement.  Unless Georgia is looking to adopt the California sign in a more expensive cutout design, there is absolutely no reason to modify the U.S. route design, and the exception of using a 24" x 24" blank size for a state route does not apply to U.S. routes.


Sorry, GDOT, this isn't how the Standard Highway Signs manual says that these signs are supposed to look.  How did you get a 2" offset?  Why is the text 10" high in Series B and C?   


This Google Street View edit shows how the above signs are supposed to look.  Note the expanded size for US 129, 12" text in Series D font, and 0.5" offset on the symbol.



This example is the one design exception for U.S. route signs where there are no "1" digits meaning that the number will not properly fit the legend.  In this case, Series C font was used instead of Series D.

INTERSTATE SIGNS

Georgia should be applauded for keeping the state name in interstate shields.  While it has not been in the MUTCD in years, it is a distinctive treatment that balances the look of the shield more.  However, this practice seems to be falling out of favor.  If it is used, however, it should be designed as a hybrid of the current design with the design of the M1-2 interstate business loop shield with no exceptions.  That means 10" text on a 24" x 24" sign.  If the state is going to remove the state name, then the design should probably be modified to 11" text, but maintaining the M1-1 design with 10" by simply moving the vertical centerline of the text up 0.5".  Like with other route signs, though, text should not be shrunk or stretched to fit.  Please do the numbers on the signs correctly.  This has only been a recent problem given that interstate signs were designed correctly in the recent past.

OVERHEAD SPAN WIRE SIGNS

The use of span wire route assemblies really isn't working out, and I have had many people agree with me that this low-cost design of identifying routes based on turn lanes is not effective, is terribly confusing, and it looks ugly.  Sure, it's cheaper, and this is yet another vestige of a GDOT operating for decades on a 7.5 cent gasoline tax.  The gas tax is higher now, so it's time to vastly improve the overheads.  The signs as they are laid out are extremely confusing: especially when multiple routes are shown and lane movements are not straightforward.


Even with two simple lane movements here, this is way too much information to parse in the method that it is displayed.  Imagine this as a far more complex intersection with far more lane movements.  The display of unnecessary state overlaps also does not help.  Adding the control cities shown to actual overheads would also greatly improve the quick comprehension of the information shown.


This Google Street View capture shows the abject failure of overhead signs.  It is unclear what lane you should be in, and the display of information makes it very difficult to tell what is what.  It does not even follow state policy guidelines where each R3-5x arrow is supposed to contain the route and direction if it exists.  That means that each left arrow should have a GA 5 Connector sign (which is already difficult enough to read) as well as a TO I-75 trailblazer.  The through movement lacks any arrows.  The right turn arrow is so far over, it's almost unnoticeable, and if this route were changed it would also need a route sign or trailblazer on top.


Does this seem just a little confusing?


This is the NUMBER ONE reason that these overhead do not work.  The option lane sign makes it very unclear where 115 and 60 go.  The addition of the control cities shows that a proper D15-1 overhead is much preferred to this disaster of an assembly.


Adding in that guide sign didn't help anything at all, and using text that small on an overhead is completely in violation of the MUTCD.  Proper D15-1 overheads could display this information plus all control cities while completely eliminating ground-mounted signs in an area where this clearly not enough space for ground-mounted signs to be effective.

The examples above should make it clear that overhead span wire assemblies are not a solution for places where it is too difficult to post ground-mounted signs.  They are too confusing, too hard to read, and they are not effective when the needs is there to provide additional information such as road names, control cities, or special route banners (e.g. SPUR, CONNECTOR) that are common in Georgia.

The MUTCD added a sign in recent years: D15-1.  These signs are overhead signs showing lane assignments under a green guide sign.  The drawings in the manual are basic showing only a route with cardinal direction/lane control arrow or a street name with a lane control arrow.  However, combining these elements with trailblazers, road names and/or control cities, they can function like an overhead expressway guide sign although details are smaller.  Will the replacement be costly?  Yes, but the maintenance will be far less costly while comprehension for the public will be immeasurably improved.  This will also allow GDOT to remove many ground-mounted signs, which are difficult to place properly in urban areas due to curb cuts, inadequate horizontal clearance along shoulders, and especially the presence of other regulatory and warning signs that create very limited space for these signs.  These signs are already used in some places in North Carolina, and they are much more effective than the current approach.


D15-1 signs are a recent addition to the MUTCD and were added to the Standard Highway Signs manual in the 2012 supplement.  These were pulled from the supplement.

For this to be most effective, though, the replacement of span wire signs with overheads should be included not only along state routes, but also along county roads where they junction state routes as well: primarily local roadways that are designated collector or arterial.  Will GDOT have to maintain them on those approaches?  Of course they will.  It's not like the local agencies have been maintaining the span wire overheads they put up, either.  It doesn't mean the state takes over the road, but they do take over a means for intersecting traffic in urban areas to clearly and safely figure out not only what lane to be in, but where the routes go in urban areas.  These overheads should also routinely include traiblazers ("TO") to nearby routes, including interstates.  Multiple examples are provided below.



The route signs as posted at present along with the guide signs at GA 515 where it junctions with GA 53 and 108 are confusing, misleading, missing information, and are very cluttered.  The first sign is for southbound while the second sign is for northbound.  Use of these overheads here (ignore the fact that first sign is too far from the lane movements), will greatly enhance understanding here: especially given that GA 53 joins GA 515 here and that each direction has at least two important destinations, and simple directional arrows may be used if R3-5 lane control arrows are not applicable here.  Also note the addition of I-575, which is currently unsigned at the intersection despite starting only a couple miles south of this intersection.  This displays how useful D15-1 signs are for this purpose.


Here, a complicated road name change at US 29 with locally-owned Jimmy Carter Blvd and Mountain Industrial Boulevard is simplified with these overheads.  Lane movements are clearly defined, and trailblazers are included in the assembly given that, despite not being a state route, the roadway is functionally classified as principal arterial and does not only become a state route, but provides a primary connection to a major interstate.  On the right side, US 78 is the nearest major route as part of the Stone Mountain Freeway, but GA 236 was omitted due to being a minor state route.  Also note how this layout more clearly defines the roads as signed when an option lane is present similar to the new APL (arrow per lane) signs on the interstates.  This is why such signage is justified along with the fact that locations for ground-mounted signs are very limited at this intersection.



The above shows why D15-1 overheads are also needed along local roads.  This is along DeRenne Avenue, a principal arterial and former route of GA 21.  The first image is approaching Harry Truman Parkway, a county-maintained freeway, but extra space was created on top to allow for a future state route sign.  Note that these signs not only allowed for proper alignment of lane control arrows, but they also allowed for destinations to be included in a more effective manner than ground-mounted signs.  The second sign is further east where the former route turns at Skidaway Road.  Look at how much more effective the information is displayed this way including the necessary trailblazer, road names with directionals, and destination signage for Skidaway Road (minor arterial).  Images modified from Google Street View.

FRAMING STRAPS AND Z-BARS USED TO MOUNT MULTIPLE ROUTES

GDOT is wasting a lot of money on unnecessary posts while making route signs look like a cluttered mess by not using enough framing straps or z-bars.  It used to be more common to see these along state routes, but much of these were removed in the past 15 years, and the use of these should be returned with stronger and better layouts.  A whole series of layouts were designed for this, and a couple of these are being shown here.  Framing straps are used for some instances, but not typically in the way the state drawings recommend (e.g. using horizontal straps for sign elements with no vertical elements to hold it securely in place).  Whole assemblies can be combined in all different ways, and the use of z-bars or u-channel post stubs could aid in the installation of larger, heavier assemblies where more sturdy hardware is needed.  If post stability is an issue, then using pipe posts, heavier posts, mounting the posts in concrete, or adding soil plates could make assemblies like this work a lot better.  The goalpost style pipe posts that Texas uses could help facilitate particular large route assemblies.


This image in Jasper shows the problem with not using z-bars and framing straps on mounting hardware.  You have three posts here when two would likely suffice, the posts are all leaning different directions, and the information as it is displayed is confusing.  Some means of stacking the information or spacing the information might also improve this.


This image in Tate shows how bad route sign assemblies look when skimping on signposts and framing straps/z-bars


Not shown in the state signing guidelines is a display of three 30" x 24" route signs in a combination assembly.  Note the use of only three z-bars and three vertical straps reduces the number of posts from three two two AND creates a more stable assembly.  The assembly shown above would be vastly improved with the drawing shown, and it could even include cardinal directions for GA 108 and 53 Business, and a separate M4-3 (BUSINESS) banner for GA 53 Business.  When shoulder width is adequate and the slope is not too steep, this assembly should be typical.  Information shown on the other side would typically be something like both directions of a route shown with a trailblazer, both directions of a route with a straight route in the center, or other combinations.


In the instance where space is restricted, the use of the NC standard is recommended.  Other states like WV use this design as well, and it basically stacks the top route sign in a cheer leading squad fashion.  For this to work as shown, however, something stronger than framing straps would be needed including u-channel post stubs and/or z-bars.  It is not recommended to use a single post unless it is a very strong post inbedded in concrete.

UNNECESSARY ROUTE INFORMATION

It has been discussed here before, but the state overlaps along U.S. routes really are a problem.  They are not only confusing, but they are a total waste of money that could be used for better overall route and guide signs.  Having a state overlap of a U.S. route not only is of absolutely no use to the general public, but it creates needless confusion that results in delayed response.  Only four states have such a system, and of those Georgia is the only one that actually prominently posts the state overlaps.  While completely doing away with them is the ideal goal, a start would be to begin to remove signage for them as much as possible. 



These photos by Lou C. show the complete absurdity of having state overlaps.  Not only does it clutter up the signage making it harder to comprehend, but duplication of route numbers sometimes results in the state and U.S. routes coming together in a terrible fashion.  These signs as shown are in Brunswick where U.S. 25, GA 25, GA 25 Connector, and GA 25 Spur all come together, except that GA 25 is the state counterpart of US 17, NOT U.S. 25.  Other examples include the crossings or close proximity of U.S. 17, 23, and 27 with GA 17, 23, and 27 as well as the close paralleling of I-85 and GA 85. 

BANNER ISSUES

As the image above shows, using 2" text inside the route to denote if the route is a Business, Loop, Spur, Connector, or Alternate is NOT an acceptable practice.  It is difficult to read, and it is not visible from any distance.  As part of improving route sign and route assemblies, placing the banner separate per the MUTCD should be standard practice.  A couple GDOT districts do this, but most do not, and most contractor-installed signs do not as well.  Installing route assemblies with framing straps and z-bars when multiple routes are shown will make it easier to install balanced route assemblies with bannered routes.





This photo from 2005 shows a route assembly in Manchester where the "SPUR" banner is separate above the route sign.  Here, framing straps were used allowing the assembly to look balanced (although the straps should have included the bottom arrows as well).  This should be standard practice statewide, including in contractor installs.


ONE-PIECE ROUTE ASSEMBLIES

With the problems already present with Georgia route signs, this seems like a dangerous topic, but it might help cut costs, reduce theft, and improve output if some signs are made as one-piece signs.  This may even be done with plywood backing in rural areas as long as the signs are properly treated and assembled with adequate mounting hardware.  One-piece assemblies would not be all-encompassing like a couple states use.  They would be limited strictly to assemblies where:


  • An M3-x or M4-x cardinal direction sign (or other 24" x 12" sign), M5-x or M6-x directional arrow signs, and the route sign itself is combined
  • Signs measure 24" x 54" and 24" x 66" for two digits
  • Signs measure 30" x 54" and 30" x 66" for three digits  

The symbols would be placed on a solid black background with an optional 1.5" corner radius with an overlay on colored route signs while black and white signs could have a black overlay over white reflective sheeting.  The design incorporates a 1" air space between each sign as if the route signs are being laid onto backing itself.  The legend is centered vertically for a clean layout.  Use of this method with horizontal assemblies (e.g. U.S/state reference overlaps) is not recommended nor is it recommended to combine a whole route assembly into, say, a 48" x 54" blank.  This method of assembling route signs is very common in states like Maryland, Virginia, and Wisconsin.  It is rarely seen elsewhere.


This trailblazer for GA 51 is placed in a 24" x 54" blank.  2" offset is used between the directional information and the route sign, because the state outline is treated as a 24" x 24" sign despite the state outline being only 22" x 22".  This design incorporates the 1967 state outline with 10" text height.


This assembly is used for rural areas where a nearby highway is considerable distance from the place the trailblazer is being installed, and it would most likely be used along county roads in rural areas.  While the "X MILES" sign has no equivalent in the MUTCD, it is a permitted special sign and could be incorporated into a state-specific sign.  The assembly above could also be used for situations where the information reads like e.g. "TO SOUTH Ga. 51 >" or "WEST SPUR 51 <" since the dimensions add up to 24" x 66".  The 30" versions of both of these assemblies have more black space to the left and right of the directional information.


The use of framing straps on one-piece assemblies would also be far more economical since vertical elements are not required as long as the sign is bolted horizontally in two locations.  This could also help cut down on post height since shorter posts could be used for a 24" x 54" height.


Two 24" x 54" one-piece assemblies side-by-side make up two signs on a directional route assembly.  Image from Google Street View.

A trailblazer sign with a 30" wide route sign would have more black space, but would still do the job.  Image from Google Street View.

THE OVERALL SITUATION

Georgia has been getting very lax about laying out both route and guide signs, and the presence of poorly assembled route signs, too much sign clutter via unnecessary route duplication, and poor signing methods make it worse.  At the very least, our route signs in Georgia should look professional and follow the MUTCD as much as practical not just in usage, but per the Standard Highway Signs manual, which was used to make the sign examples shown here.  We should also utilize these higher gas taxes to provide much better signage for Georgia drivers, and fixing both the design and layout flaws with these route signs coupled with improved urban overhead signage will go a long way to improving the driving experience and making roads in Georgia safer.