Signs normally meant to relay traffic-related information have been switched over to urge Nevadans to be safe during the statewide shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The signs typically display messages approved by the Federal Highway Administration to inform motorists about road conditions, travel times, Amber or Silver alerts, special event traffic information or future road closures from scheduled construction.
After discussions with Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office, the Nevada Department of Transportation’s operations division began running messages encouraging public health and safety amid the novel coronavirus crisis.
On March 23, NDOT began posting coronavirus-related messages on some of the 271 digital messaging signs on valley freeways in the department’s District 1, or anything south of Tonopah. The messages include “Wash your hands, stay healthy, avoid COVID-19” and “Give extra space with each other and on the road,” promoting social distancing.
Signage on display at points of entry to Nevada began running messages last weekend regarding the governor’s stay-at-home orders and the 14-day self-quarantine if visiting or returning to the state.
“The message priority remains the same as public service announcements, so that it can be overridden by more critical messages if needed,” said Tony Illia, Department of Transportation spokesman.
Some coronavirus-related messages could be displayed on the larger of the 42 active traffic management signs installed on Interstate 15 and portions of U.S. Highway 95, according to Brian Hoeft, director of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada’s Freeway and Arterial System of Transportation. That has yet to take place.
Some of the typical messages include: “Drive sober or get pulled over” and “Buzzed driving is drunk driving.”
To make them more catch-worthy, NDOT has been working to be creative with its messages related to holidays.
Those messages include St. Patrick’s Day’s “A DUI will empty the pot of gold / Drive sober” and Halloween’s “Halloween is near / Don’t be a crash dummy.”
Looking to involve the community in the messages, the department is considering a public competition for sign messages later this year.
Traffic signal adjustments
With orders for nonessential workers and students to stay home in Nevada until at least April 30 to help curb the spread of COVID-19, traffic volume around the Las Vegas Valley has declined.
With that, the RTC is adjusting traffic signal timing to make up for the lack of drivers on the roads.
RTC technicians are in the field daily observing intersections and making adjustments as needed, according to Hoeft.
April typically is one of the higher months for traffic, according to Hoeft, so signal timing was set to reflect that. But now many traffic signals are being adjusted to reflect the lower volumes.
“We’d run the signal with the assumption there would be many more vehicles out there, say, for the morning rush hour,” Hoeft said. “Maybe now a Friday afternoon is going to behave more like a Sunday afternoon, and on Sundays we would time signals to handle lower volumes of traffic, and that’s what we are looking at.”
RTC bus operators are relaying traffic signal suggestions when they make their daily routes.
And if members of the public observe a traffic signal that is taking longer than needed, they can reach out to the RTC.
Motorists can submit requests on the Seeing Orange website under the leave-a-comment section.
“Those come to us directly,” Hoeft said. “We like to hear what they’re seeing and then look into what we can do. We always welcome any feedback from the public.”