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How to Manage Reflective Posts: Installing, Maintaining, and Replacing

Reflective posts serve an invaluable role in modern transportation.  They prevent accidents, communicate vital information, and help everyone to get where they’re going safely.  However, their effectiveness relies on proper installation, maintenance, and, when necessary, replacement.  This article will outline the proper steps needed to achieve each of these goals.  The material presented is drawn from this FHWA publication.  Please refer to it or to the MUTCD for further information.

Here are the basic guidelines for Installation of reflective posts:

  • Prior to installation, it’s important to check with a local utility company to ensure there are no underground power cables or other utility lines that sign installation might disturb.
  • Make sure signage is angled to prevent undue glare from sunlight or headlamp beams.  Most manufacturers recommend orienting new signs at a 93° perpendicular angle to the roadway.
  • It’s important to check reflective posts after installation during both daytime and evening to ensure adequate visibility.  Misaligned signs can be difficult or impossible for oncoming motorists to see clearly.

Once the signage is in place, a highway department can then move on to the maintenance phase of the project.

Principles of Reflective Post Maintenance

  • Ensure that every installed sign is identified by a unique ID number clearly visible on its surface.  These IDs are usually placed on the rear of the sign to avoid public notice.
  • Keep an accurate inventory of all installed signs along with their exact location as determined by GPS coordinates and physical address markers.  Traditionally, these inventories have been maintained in manual logbooks; nowadays they’re more likely to be found on computer databases.  Whichever method the local department chooses, it should ensure that the information is duplicated and backed up in a safe location.
  • Create a schedule program for sign inspection and maintenance.  This should include protocol for replacing reflective posts as necessary.
  • Prepare and keep accurate records of all maintenance and replacement activities.  As with the inventory of installed signs, this information can be recorded in a physical log book and/or on a computer database.

Properly maintaining a reflective post inventory provides many benefits, including enhanced public safety and minimization of tort liability.

Essential Information for a Sign Database

Whatever form the sign inventory takes, it should include the following details about the sign:

  • Unique ID number
  • Exact location
  • MUTCD classification
  • The sign’s orientation to the road (facing left, facing right, or mounted overhead)
  • Distance offset from the road surface
  • Height above road level
  • Width
  • Type of retroreflective material used
  • Date of installation
  • Type of sign support used, such as wooden post, metal tube, etc.

Items to Check During Sign Inspection

  • Retroreflectivity.  The advantage of a reflective post is that motorists are able to see it clearly during both day and evening hours.  Over time, however, this quality can degrade due to exposure to the sun and the weather.  For this reason, it’s important to check retroreflectivity levels on a regular basis.
  • Orientation of sign.  This is important because a misaligned sign is harder for drivers to see.
  • Integrity of supporting post.  Whether the sign support is made from wood or metal, it should remain in good shape and free of physical damage that could impair its function.

Knowing When to Replace a Reflective Post

As noted before, all signs have a finite lifespan.  Knowing when they require replacement is an essential skill for highway crews.  Here are some indications that its time for new signage:

  • Retroreflectivity has degraded beyond minimal accepted standards, and maintenance steps like cleaning and trimming away vegetation cannot remedy the problem.
  • The sign has suffered irreparable damage due to accidents, vandalism, or acts of nature.
  • The Federal Highway administration or other appropriate agency mandates the use of updated signage.

Few items help to prevent accidents and ensure public safety better than humble reflective posts.  Properly maintained, these products can continue to provide this valuable service for many years after initial installation.