- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

Markers taken out by accidents,vandals need to be replaced often

CULPEPER, Va. — They’re everywhere along the roads.

You see them. You read them. They help you get to where you’re going.

But the only time you really notice a road sign is when one is missing, or when you’re lost and looking for one in particular.

The need for road signs keeps those who work at the Virginia Department of Transportation’s regional sign shop in Culpeper busy.

VDOT’s Maxwell Carpenter says the shop employs five full-time workers, who make the signs on Northern Virginia interstates and secondary roads. The work includes deer crossing, directional, stoplight warning, route, interstate mile marker, exit, stop and speed-limit signs.

All of which occasionally need replacing — some more than others, Mr. Carpenter says.

The regional sign shop replaces more stop signs than any other kind, Mr. Carpenter says.

They get bent when people crash cars at intersections or cut corners and take the signs out.

“Since you have more out there, you have more accidents with them,” Mr. Carpenter says of stop signs.

They also are stolen the most. “You go in a subdivision around a college somewhere, they’re liable to disappear real quick,” he says.

The sign shop sends 50 to 100 30-inch stop signs every three months to the Northern Virginia district, which includes Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties.

The three counties use up 20 to 35 of the stop signs every quarter, Mr. Carpenter says.

But sign vandalism is not limited to stop signs, officials say.

The Prince William County sign shop that produces neighborhood-watch, street name, park authority and fire and rescue, police department and school signs once had similar problems.

But the county’s character has changed in the past 20 years, and the signs it puts up aren’t shot up as much anymore, says Curt Jurey, the sign shop coordinator.

Barring other accidents, the materials the state and county sign shops use for their work are guaranteed for 10 years.

Most of the state signs are replaced every 12 years — if they last that long, Mr. Carpenter says.

He says the county sign shop replaces about 100 street signs a month, and cites the example of a place called Cuckoo in Louisa County.

The sign for Cuckoo on Route 22 is stolen a dozen times in a year, Mr. Carpenter says. If people aren’t stealing the sign, they’re having their picture taken in front of it.

Mr. Carpenter says the county makes another 100 signs for county use, or to sell to developers. It sells no parking, towing enforced and private road signs to homeowner associations. The county also makes storm water warning, bus stop, handicapped and no parking signs.

The regional sign shop makes 100,000 signs a year for districts that include Northern Virginia, Culpeper, Richmond, Fredericksburg, Hampton Roads, Lynchburg, Staunton, Salem and Bristol.

It is one of three regional sign shops in the commonwealth.

They use 220,000 square feet of aluminum per year to make the signs and have a budget of about $900,000, says Mr. Carpenter, who has been with VDOT for 20 years.

The Northern Virginia district uses 20 percent to 25 percent of all the signs made at the regional sign shop.

Sometimes the sign shop is called on to make signs with special colors, such as the blue and orange ones with crossed sabers for the University of Virginia.

Many markers such as stop, yield, directional, signal ahead, stop ahead, curve, no left turn and no right turn signs can be mass produced.

Mr. Jurey says the county sign shop also can make signs to order for sale to the average resident.

The signs cost $15 to $80 depending on the size.

To buy or report a missing sign in the county, call 703/792-5765.

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