Let’s Rumble!

By Posted on Nov 17 2018 | By

VDOT saving lives one rumble strip at a time

What if every vehicle in Fauquier County could magically possess a lifesaving safety feature? With no direct cost to the owner.

“Sign me up,” would echo countywide.

Well rest easy and take no action. Over the next three years driving throughout the Piedmont will be safer than ever before. We have the Virginia Department of Transportation to thank for this gift of life.

VDOT has started a rumble fight that’s opposite of a word associated with harm. Instead, the department is saving lives and winning the opening rounds of an important roadway skirmish.

Rumble strips have been around for over half a century having first been installed on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey in 1952. Typically embedded on the side of interstate highways, they alert inattentive drivers with a tactile vibration and audible rumbling transmitted through the vehicle wheels to the driver.

If rumble strips could talk, their message would be, “You’re leaving your lane and headed for disaster.”

The safety feature goes by numerous nicknames including sleeper lines, alert strips, audible lines, sleepy bumps, wake up calls, drift lines, and most graphically, drunk lines. Call them what you may, but “guardian angels” might be the best moniker.

A case could be made that for the last several decades installation of rumble strips on interstate highways was the reverse of where they first should have been installed. Why?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises twice as many highway deaths occur on rural roads than urban and suburban streets and highways. Nearly 55 percent of all on-road fatalities occur on rural roads yet fewer than 20 percent of the U. S. population resides in small towns and rural areas.

One of the most dangerous acts any of us perform each day is getting behind the wheel and cruising through our scenic countryside.

“Some of the things that make Virginia beautiful can also make our roadways fairly dangerous,” said Nathan Umberger. Umberger is VDOT’s Culpeper District traffic engineer and tasked with managing the district’s highway safety improvement program.

“We look very closely at the amount of fatal crashes and crashes overall. We ascribe to vision zero deaths. We want all road users to arrive safely at their final destination.”  Residents will notice with greater frequency either centerline or roadside rumble strips appearing on county roads in an effort to achieve that goal.

From 2014 to 2018, there were 255 fatal crashes in the nine-county Culpeper District that stretches from Fauquier County to Albemarle County; virtually all of the Piedmont. During that same period there were 67 fatalities in Fauquier County.

Cost & safety
There are numerous ways to improve roadway safety. These include widening pavement, clearing tree lines, grading and flattening slopes and other roadbed redesigns. But it comes with a high price tag. The cost-benefit-ratio of rumble strips is dramatic.

“I can cover 40 or 50 miles of roads with rumble strips for $100,000. But $100,000 doesn’t even pay for a tenth of a mile for paving or other road changes,” said Umberger. “It’s a very cheap countermeasure. Our goal is to cover the entire Culpeper district over the next three years for somewhere between $2 and $3 million.”

VDOT contractors perform the installation of the strips. At a price of 50 cents a foot, the installation cost covers traffic control, striping and any needed repainting of the road surface.

The machine used to lay down the strips is a modified version of what is used to mill worn roadbeds in preparation for repaving. The machine has a similar grinding head that can be adjusted to a specific width, depth and spacing.

Picture a custom-designed ice cream scooper with rotating teeth carving out dips in the roadbed that will produce the, “May I have your attention please” sound.

The machines are capable of covering up to 20 miles a day.

Umberger points out the three-year program will proceed with roadbeds that are in good surface condition. Application will not be undertaken with roads awaiting resurfacing since to do so would require reapplying the striping after the new paving occurred.

In the Culpeper district there are 70 miles of interstate highways, 732 miles of primary roads and 4,153 miles of secondary roads. The interstates have had the strips for years and the goal is to have all targeted roads stripped by 2022. There will be no installation of rumble strips on residential streets or in neighborhoods.

Results & concerns
Umberger underscores it’s still too early in the program to guarantee what the final outcome will be. But the past is prologue.

One dramatic early example of success is on Route 211 as it leaves Sperryville and ascends upward toward the Page County line to the entrance to the Shenandoah National Park.

From 2005 to 2010, there were 75 non-animal crashes on that stretch of roadway with an injury crash rate of 420 per 100 million vehicle miles travelled and a fatal crash rate of 39 per 100 million miles travelled.

From 2012 to 2017, after the rumble strips were installed, the same roadway experienced 44 crashes, or a 41 percent reduction, and injury crash rate reduction of 56% and a 100 percent reduction in fatalities.

A similar reduction of all parameters of highway safety occurred after the strips where in installed on Route 20 in Albemarle County north of Irish Road to the Orange County line.

Clearly, the promise of significantly saving lives and reducing injuries in the Piedmont is impressive. However, Umberger stresses he’s only into the first year of the accelerated program and the overall numbers are not yet where he wants them to be.

“The early results have been very good and we hope we can continue to see the success grow.”

Notwithstanding the obvious benefits of the program, Umberer opines there are some complaints associated with the strips.

“Some people don’t like the noise when their vehicle run over the strips. Others hear occasional road sound from their residences. We really need people to understand we are trying to get people to stay on the road and increasing drive awareness,” said Umberger.

The leadership and employees of VDOT are to be commended for aggressively pursuing policies that protect the lives of loved ones and friends.

Our part of the compact is to keep eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Safe journey.

Published in the November 14, 2018 edition of the Fauquier Times.   

Categories : HAGARTY TALES