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Sign of the Times
by Garrett Valenzuela
Sep 20, 2012 | 5259 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Garrett Valenzuela
New signs along Interstate 80 in Sparks will soon signal commute times for northern Nevada drivers.
Tribune/Garrett Valenzuela New signs along Interstate 80 in Sparks will soon signal commute times for northern Nevada drivers.

SPARKS — It is impossible to drive on Interstate 80 in Sparks and not notice the improvements the Nevada Department of Transportation has made in the past several months.

Lane widenings and replacement of 40-year-old concrete were among the major improvements made, but some of the most important updates to the major commuter route consist of the replacement of mileage indication signs from Robb Drive to Vista Boulevard.

Scott Magruder, NDOT public information officer, said travel times and overall commute experience will be improved thanks to the addition of Dynamic Message Signs (DMS). The DMS will allow NDOT traffic headquarters to alert motorists how long their drive to a certain exit will take and when there are major slowdowns or closures.

“These are a great addition to the improved freeway and they have proven to be very successful on (US) 395,” Magruder said. “Drivers don’t always know about a crash or incident on the freeway and once they get beyond a certain point they are stuck in traffic without many options. The advantage of these signs is they will be able to see slowdowns ahead of time and decide if they would rather exit right away. There is nothing more frustrating than wishing you knew there was a ton of traffic and missing an exit that could have saved you time.”

Accompanying the DMS addition is the installment of more cameras for NDOT to monitor throughout the day. From its main headquarters in Sparks, it is able to monitor more stretches of roads and immediately alert and update drivers using its message boards. The boards and cameras are part of NDOT’s Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), which was designed with drivers in mind.

“Ultimately, we want to give drivers options. We have found that having signs telling them where potential problems, if any, has a calming effect because people always want to know how long their drive is going to take,” Magruder said. “When we can show drivers that there are no delays and give them more lanes to travel in, we hope to keep them from speeding and keep them safe.”

The ITS also allows motorists to monitor for updates on construction and traffic along their route, receive messages via cell phone and view “real time” cameras positioned along the freeway.

The construction along I-80 is part of a $72 million project that began in April of 2011 and is expected to continue until this fall. Traffic lanes from Keystone Avenue to Fourth Street opened to three lanes Wednesday after five months of on-and-off-ramp closures and lane widening.

The electronic messaging signs were not the only signage updates on I-80. The road also received new, high-reflective exit signs. The signs have been attached to longer curved poles that extend out into the driver’s view, improving visibility and staving off graffiti according to Magruder.

“We had some of the old signs get tagged with graffiti because of their structure and these new ones basically make it impossible to climb up and graffiti,” he said adding that NDOT is responsible for the care of those signs when hit with graffiti.

Liz Florez, division director for Washoe County Juvenile Services, said NDOT’s improvements provide a step in the positive direction of graffiti control.

“A taggers purpose is to display their work to a targeted rival gang or to as many people as possible,” Florez said. “By restricting that canvas, it is a very positive step against graffiti.”

Florez noted the impact graffiti can have on a community when it is displayed to such a wide audience.

“When a community sees graffiti there is an assumption the community is unsafe. We make assumptions about violence in the area, unsafe neighborhoods and rival gangs and eventually it will devalue properties,” she said. “When we receive reports we recognize the effect is on the community as a whole, not just on the property holder. It is a much larger issue than that. We take the sanctions very seriously and we do our best to respond to community needs.”
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