'Miles-to-Utah' sign finds favor with fans of the open road

THE BALTIMORE SUN

IT'S A rare but wonderful column that generates as much unexpected response as last week's did about the tantalizing sign advertising the distance to Cove Fort, Utah, on Interstate 70 just west of the Baltimore Beltway.

"I must disagree with the writer who complained that the big new mileage sign was a waste of money. I, for one, love it," said Glenn Hoge. "I see it as a reminder that there's a great big country out there beyond our immediate surroundings, ready and waiting for us to come out and explore. And while I may never drive out as far as Cove Fort, just knowing that I CAN - and on the very same east-west interstate highway that serves our own Howard County, no less - fills me with a sense of this country's limitless possibilities."

Mr. Hoge is not alone.

"I, for one, think the 'miles-to-Utah' sign is cool," Michael Wood said. "It reminds us that we are a terminus of one of the key parts of the interstate highway system, which, except perhaps for the jet engine, has probably done more than anything else to aid transportation in these United States."

Mark Hickey also is a fan of the sign.

"I just read your column with the question about why someone would put a highway sign on I-70 indicating how far it is to St. Louis and Cove Fort. Let me say thank you to whoever did it," he said.

"In these days of geographic illiteracy, this may help the drivers on I-70 realize the highway goes further than Hagerstown. It will also give us all a better understanding of where other cities are located. It might even spark a conversation with the kids about the cities and how much easier it is to get to St. Louis now than 50 years ago, or in a covered wagon. The only improvement might be to add WEST after the mileage since not everyone knows [in] what direction they are traveling," Mr. Wood said.

Mr. Hoge disagreed, however, with the assertion of Dave Buck, the State Highway Administration media relations manager, that because SHA did not pay for the sign, it didn't cost Marylanders any money.

"Whether it's funded by SHA or [the Federal Highway Administration], it all comes out of the taxpayers' pockets," Mr. Hoge said, although he acknowledged that he is a fan of the sign.

"I think it was money well spent: The engineers got to test their fonts, and the motorists get to dream of faraway places while enduring mundane commutes," he said.

Meanwhile, Matt Fitzgerald praised the greater visibility of the sign's new font.

"Hooray! It's about time that SHA installs signs that may be read ... from a farther distance at night; a split-second look at a sign when traveling at 65 mph just doesn't cut it," he said. "Visitors to this state must spend a lot of time and gasoline doubling back to their missed exits due to the current signage on our state and federal roads in Maryland."

Mr. Fitzgerald said he is ready to see more signs using the new font, too.

"[I] hope that the counties will follow suit with the street signs on the secondary roads. I would prefer to not have to stop my car and walk up to the street sign to figure out where I am," he said.

Mr. Fitzgerald may like the sign but not the paint used to mark the roads beneath it, though. "What is your opinion regarding the paint used on our roads and highways to mark the lanes and shoulders that 'disappears' on rainy nights?" he asked.

Instead of giving my opinion, here is what I know about road markings:

Roads are painted in a two-step process. First, a thick layer of paint is sprayed onto the road. Then, tiny glass beads are sprayed immediately afterward. These imbed themselves in the paint and provide the "sparkle," or reflection, when your lights hit the road at night. Newly painted road markings reflect just fine, regardless of the weather. But the wear and tear of countless tires pound the glass beads into dust, which is why road markings must be painted in over and over again. Most jurisdictions constantly evaluate the condition of road markings to determine when the markings need to be repainted.

Finally, Mr. Wood shared his concerns about the results of a study, also discussed last week, being conducted along U.S. 29, Route 32 and Interstate 95 to determine the effect of long-term construction on travel times.

"You might share with the researchers my concern about the results of those cameras along 29, 32, and 95," he cautioned. "They would find me taking 'the cutoff' all of the time, but not because of the 29 construction further south: 29-32-95-[Route] 198 is simply my preferred daily commute from Ellicott City to Laurel, when I'm not sufficiently early or late to avoid the traffic congestion on [Route] 100 and the B.W. [Baltimore-Washington] Parkway."

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at TrafficTalk@ comcast.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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