Friday, February 26, 2010

Harangue -- South Carolina DOT Waste

harangue: An impassioned, disputatious public speech; A tirade or rant, whether spoken or written; To give a forceful and lengthy lecture or criticism to someone.

A road near where I live was recently widened and paved. It is state-maintained, and it is one of those roads that used to be out in the country, but the city has grown and overtaken it. It needed to be improved, and it was getting a little bumpy in places.

If you live around here, you also know that they do not provide even one inch of drivable berm on most roads, so if you leave the tarmac, you are off the road. ...and there are ditches along many roads, so you might even be in the ditch as soon as you go off. Not a good situation for car, truck, or bike.

Widening the road was certainly welcome, and they did a nice job. They glued down center reflectors as they usually do so you can follow the many curves at night. These reflectors are protected by metal housings from traffic damage and the occasional snowplow that may need to run down the road.

All A-OK so far.

After the road widening and repaving portions of the project had been completed for a few days, they came back and glued down circular disks on the fog lines. The fog lines are the white lines that they paint along the edges of the road so you can see them better, especially in the dark or in fog.

These disks are intended to make noise when you run over them, warning you away from the edge and certain trouble if you stray further. Not a bad idea. I understand they are made of plastic, melted to stick them into place. They also appear to incorporate sand in their makeup to provide hardness and wear resistance.

Here is what they look like.

And a closeup of one of them.

Not a bad idea...except for one thing. Remember that snow we had on Friday, February 12th that kept me from riding the next day? Well, it had almost all melted when the state highway maintenance crew came down the road with the snowplow on that Saturday.

You did read correctly -- the snow was almost all melted and gone by the time they ran the plow.

So, why on earth did they waste their time and my money?

Guess what happened.

Right you are. Did you see the crack in the pavement to the left of the disk in the closeup picture above? Yep. The snowplow scraped up more than half of the fine new round blobs that had been so carefully glued to the fog lines.

See? Sheared right off.

The pieces of the disks are scattered like so many eggshells along the edges of the road. Thousands of them.

And the mowers in the summer are sure to spew some of them back out onto the road, maybe into a passing car -- or into Bucky on his motorcycle.

The shape of the blobs is almost straight sided, not tapered, so the plow has the advantage in ripping them off of the surface.

Here is a view of our fine new road -- and the broken up bumps strewn about.

Well, I was boiling mad when I saw this. My hard-earned tax dollars were wasted.

So I called the South Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT). I had a tough time finding someone to talk with, but finally found Sam Gravely in the maintenance department. I assure you that I was tactful and didn't let him have my wrath right out of the box.

Not that I wasn't strongly tempted to let loose. I was that.

I explained what I had observed, and he asked a few questions. He was familiar with this one-mile stretch of road work, and he said that he had questioned the DOT construction engineers on how his department was supposed to maintain the road in winter with these round blobs sticking up from it. He said he got no answer. Further, he said that it is usually not customary to install such devices on roads with speed limits as low as this road -- 45 MPH. I wonder why they were installed then.

By the way, Mr. Gravely was unfailingly polite and constructive in our conversation.

So, as I understand it, the dots were put down as part of the scope of work created by the DOT construction department, despite there being no way to keep from damaging them in the event of snow plowing.

I called the DOT construction engineering department to ask them why they would do such a stupid thing. (Can you tell that my anger is peaking again here?) The resident construction engineers Tommy Hendricks and Jeff Lyle were both out of the office, and they did not return my call.

So I have to conclude that they are not interested in the performance of their creation or in the waste of my money that put those little plastic blobs in their vulnerable places.

By the way, the difference in cost between a painted fog line and one with the blobs is about $0.27 a linear foot. The road section where they did this is about a mile long, so I figure that the cost increment was about $2800.

I don't know about you, but $2800 is a significant amount of money that I would not simply throw away.

South Carolina DOT, you take the cake. Let me know whether you intend to pull the same trick on the next mile of the same road now being prepared for repaving just to the north of this section.

(I should report that the center reflectors survived the plow unscathed. That is one good thing.)


While I am haranguing, here is another one: Eventually those very useful center reflectors do get broken and come loose from the road. This occurs especially along curves where they are run over the most, but are most needed.

Do you suppose that the highway department periodically inspects and replaces them? No siree. We are left to feel our way along in poor visibility conditions.

I wonder how many accidents have been caused by drivers losing track of the road in one of those curves without reflectors.

OK, I'm through for now. I want to go riding.



Stacy said...

Be happy that you have reflectors at all -- around these parts all we get is paint with reflective particles in it. As the paint wears off, well...

The raised disks are new to me too. I wonder why they don't use rumble strips ground directly into the pavement.

Brian said...

Wow. What a waste.

I myself am unconvinced of the utility of even the "very useful reflectors" and have often wondered how comprehensively the actual statistics of their effect have been studied. They certainly are comforting and I'm sure lessen the chance of lane departure, but I also feel that they allow one to lessen concentration on the road and increase speed to an inappropriate extent. They also encourage one's gaze to wander too far ahead of the headlights to really do anything but follow the reflectors. Driving at night not something to be taken lightly and if you have difficulty following a clean, well painted stripe you really have little hope of catching any non-reflective object (person, deer, lost load, etc.) that happens to be in your lane. I'm sure the money that we spend on such aids would pay for substantial increases in the frequency of sweeping and painting which would aid night driving while keeping eyes on the road.

Bucky said...

To Stacy:
The embossed-in rumble strips are much more expensive than either paint or these glued on disks according to Mr. Gravely. The line paint usually does contain reflective glass spheres, but in South Carolina, the painted lines are not frequently refurbished, so they cannot be depended upon either.

To Brian:
The center reflectors certainly could cause the effect you describe -- the motorist outrunning the headlights' ability to illuminate an obstacle.
I think the inconsistency of the reflectors -- that is, that they may or may not be present depending on the age of the installation and the percentage that have been damaged or have been dislodged -- is a significant problem for night drivers: They cannot depend on their continuity.

Philip Smith said...

I've called the DOT about the very dangerous roadside memorial in hwy 178 between Liberty & Pickens - no response other than we'll call you next week. They've said that three times.

Can you tell me exactly where this is - I'd like to investigate this.