When he was moving along at 75 mph, the size of the turnpike speed limit signs wasn't a big deal to Marco White.
Then life slowed — to a standstill.
White walked over for a closer look at one of those signs when he began working at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation Central Sign Shop.
“They're huge,” said White, who is now the sign shop manager. “They're 4 feet by 5 feet, and you wouldn't know that if you're driving on the road.”
On interstates, the speed limit signs are also 4 feet by 5 feet. But on a two-lane highway like State Highway 74 in northwest Oklahoma County, a speed limit sign is 2 feet by 2½ feet. And on a four-lane highway like the Broadway Extension, speed limit signs are 3 feet by 4 feet.
“It's that difference in speed,” he said.
Although summer trips are coming to an end, highway travel is by no means over, with school activities, holidays and other reasons for taking to the road still ahead, said Terri Angier, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. That brings an opportunity for motorists to better understand the signs they see daily.
About 20,000 signs are produced at the state sign shop each fiscal year, White said. Seeing that many could lead White to say a sign is a sign. Fortunately he doesn't. Instead he likes to point out what motorists might have missed. For example, a driver might think a sign conveys one message in only one way.
Actually, White can name a few ways rather quickly: color, shape and words/symbols.
“Colors are a great indicator of what information you're going to see,” he said.
Red is prohibitive. White is regulatory.
“And fluorescent yellow-green is the new color for schools,” he said.
Shapes are an indicator of the type of message the sign represents.
Octagonal is a stop sign. Pentagons are school signs.
Replacement of signs
There are eight statewide field division offices that can request a new sign. The reasons vary. A stop sign for instance may have been mangled by an accident or by a tornado.
But the most common reason for replacement is wear, White said.
“Field divisions check signs at night, because in the daytime it might look great,” he said. “At night, if it's an older sign, then the reflectivity is not there.
“Plus, generally between 12 to 14 years is the life span of our sheeting. We replace right around that time, if it's not needed before that.”
At the sign shop
After looking at the requisition, an employee pulls a sign pattern, and a silk screen to transfer the pattern is prepared. At this stage, a light table is used to take a picture of the pattern, which goes onto the silk screen.
A tag, placed on the frame of the silk screen, lists the field division, the number of signs to be made, the color of the sign and the type of cover sheeting that will be used.
Sheeting is placed on blank signs according to the request of the field division.
Ink is placed on the signs and then they are put on racks to be dried for shipment to the field divisions.
That's for mass-produced signs.
The state sign shop doesn't print for private entities, but other government agencies can pay to have signs made at that location.
“Some of those are temporary signs, such as those we did in the state's centennial year,” Angier said. “We'll put those up and leave them up for a few years. Because they're temporary, we use things we already have and we don't put the 12- to 14-year sheeting on because there's no need. That saves cost.”
And while savings are always an issue, recycling is important.
Overall, the cost of refurbishing a sign and then putting it back up is a savings of about 25 percent, “so it can really save a lot of the taxpayers' money.”
Angier points out that besides standards for signs there is consideration given to the volume of signs in an area and trying to avoid saturation.
“You could put up so many signs that they can become confusing and therefore don't matter to people,” she said.
So, more is not necessarily better.
However, White walks over and stands next to where some screens are kept, looking for the one used for bridge clearance information.
“These were 6 feet long and now they're 6½ feet long and 24 inches wide,” he said. “That goes with the thinking that the bigger the sign is better.”
They're huge. They're 4 feet by 5 feet, and you wouldn't know that if you're driving on the road.”