11 Investigates: Vanishing highway road signs & the potential safety hazards

PITTSBURGH — By day, they’re fine. You can read every word on those huge overhead highway road signs along Rt. 119 in Uniontown, but by night it’s a much different story.

You can barely make out some of the letters.

The signs are unreadable.

Channel 11 Chief Investigator Rick Earle discovered this while driving on that roadway in Fayette County.

Earle spoke with drivers in Uniontown.

Earle: It’s like a big blob?

Gil Westfall: Oh yeah. It’s nothing. It’s just a wash.

Westfall told Earle he’s familiar with the area so it doesn’t pose much of a safety issue for him.

Westfall: Fortunately we know our way. Somebody from another area would be lost.

Earle: They’d be lost.

Westfall: Yeah

After launching an investigation, Earle found out it’s happening on other roadways as well.

“It’s not your imagination. I noticed the same thing when I drove through at night as well,” said Penndot District Executive Rachel Duda, who works in the Uniontown office.

Earle reached out to PennDOT, and Duda discovered 16 signs had gone bad on Route 119 in Uniontown.

They’ve all lost their reflectivity.

All of those signs had been installed about 13 years ago when the Pa. Turnpike’s Mon-Fayette expressway, also known as Toll 43, opened.

Duda admits it poses a challenge for drivers who aren’t familiar with the area.

“I’ve never seen anything like this  before and it’s confusing to people at times, they’re you know, it’s, they use them to guide them to the proper destination,” said Duda

“This isn’t something that is common.  It’s really not something that we’ve dealt with,” said PennDOT engineer Robb Dean, who also works in the Uniontown office.

11 Investigates also discovered it’s also happening on the Mon-Fayette expressway.

The Turnpike Commission found 29 signs in similar conditions.

11 investigates discovered even more bad highway signs, nearly 30 on the Pa. Turnpike’s Amos K. Hutchinson bypass, also known as Toll 66, near Greensburg, Westmoreland County.

Earle reached out to the Turnpike Commission in Harrisburg and spoke with traffic engineering manager Justina Wentling.

Earle: Have you guys ever seen anything like this?

Wentling: No, not a full-scale failure like this.

Wentling investigated the sign problems and she suspects that water has somehow gotten behind the white reflective sheeting and damaged it.

“When there’s water being it, that reflection is not happening, so it looks black,” said Wentling.

And interestingly enough many of the damaged signs are in the northbound lanes.

Wentling said the signs are supposed to last more than 20 years.

It’s unclear why these failed prematurely.

11 Investigates learned that all of the failed signs were made by the same company.

Wentling: We work with the company quite often. They’re one of two main or major sign manufacturers that we use.

Earle: You’ve used them in the past?

Wentling: We have used them in the past.

Earle: With no issues?

Wentling: They have a lot of other signage, their sign sheeting I should say, on our roadway.

Between the Turnpike and Penndot, 75 signs need to be replaced at a cost of more than $1.4 million.

And, unfortunately, all of the signs that have gone bad are no longer under warranty, but the turnpike is in discussions with the manufacturer.

“We’ve had some initial conversations with the sign manufacturer to see if there’s something they could do. We let them know of the Penndot issue as well. So, we’ll have to see what they come back with.  I can’t answer that now if they will end up covering any of the costs or not,” said Wentling.

Earle has learned that the Turnpike has already replaced 19 signs on the Mon-Fayette expressway.

They plan to replace the other signs by June.

PennDOT, meanwhile, has installed temporary signs on the side of Route 119 on a several-mile stretch in Uniontown until they can come up with the funding to replace those huge overhead highway signs.

11 Investigates will keep you posted on any developments.

Download the FREE WPXI News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Channel 11 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch WPXI NOW

Comments on this article