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COLUMN: Reaction to signs largely negative

The responses to the additional overhead digital signs along Interstate 95 so far have been overwhelmingly negative.

Let’s keep in mind that just about any change on the roads elicits catcalls from the driving public.

Sometimes those complaints have merit, but often they are nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction.

Is that the case here?

Some drivers like signs, but others say the messages bog down traffic, cause crashes and do not give worthwhile information.

Before these new signs, there were already several others along I–95, and they drew the same complaints.

There are eight new real-time signs along I–95 in the Fredericksburg area.

The signs are designed to give “motorists a preview of traffic conditions on the road ahead,” including during incidents, VDOT says.

Highway department spokeswoman Kelly Hannon said that, historically, responses to the signs have been negative, but typically ease with time.

Use of the digital signs is widespread—they hang over interstates throughout the U.S. Just about every state east of the Mississippi uses them. California and Texas use them.

Hannon said people tell VDOT they want timely and relevant information, and VDOT sees the signs as a public service.

“I do think people will become accustomed to them,” she said.

A 2009 Federal Highway Administration study, which included Washington, D.C.-area commuters, showed the positives and negatives of the signs.

The commuters liked getting travel time estimates, according to the study. But the authors warned that too much information could be detrimental.

The study cited other findings where the top complaint was drivers slowing to read the signs.

In most cases, according to the study, local drivers grow accustomed to the signs, while out-of-towners are the ones who continue to slow down around them.

I got a call from a truck driver who thinks the new digital signs are hazards.

“It’s gonna cause wrecks,” he said.

We’ll have to wait and see about that.

If you want to weigh in, check the poll on the Transportation blog.

Dear Scott: Whatever happened to the road widening project for Harrison Road between Gordon and Old Plank roads?

There used to be signs up advertising the project, but they are gone.

—Gary Schwartz, Spotsylvania

That project was part of the terms for the Harrison Crossing shopping center rezoning Silver Cos. got in 2008.

Business taxes tied to the development were supposed to pay for the road improvements along Harrison Road between Old Plank and Gordon roads, as well as the State Route 3 widening.

But the tax hasn’t raised enough money for work on Route 3 or Harrison.

Silver, however, footed part of the bill ($2.7 million) for the Route 3 widening and the first phase of widening on Harrison Road, said Silver Cos. Vice President Chris Hornung.

He said the company is working with the county to find a way to close a $2 million gap in order to widen that stretch of Harrison.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436