I hope these two stay together

Splitting the MUTCD would be a mistake, and nuisance

March 25, 2013

I over-booked. Again.

Every time I am gearing up for another fantasy sports draft, I hit the local bookstore and can never decide which forecast carries the best insight, so I end up buying multiple magazines. Well, at $7.99 they can be classified as books. The night of the purchase, I flip through all of the pages, and end up favoring just one, and realize—again—that every fantasy sports book (in this case, it was baseball) pretty much carries the same type of information. The one I normally cling to excels in the category of presentation. If I can access information quickly and easily, I’m relying on it during the draft.

So there I was at my fantasy baseball draft in mid-March, carrying two of these books and actually using just one.

When the FHWA recently announced it was proposing to divide the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) into two smaller documents, one with federal requirements and the second with recommended practices, I thought back to all the times I was approached (in person or via e-mail) by public works officials and traffic engineers who were crying for the need to break up the MUTCD. My brain barely flinched, because I could not think of a single incident.

Now, I’m not a traffic engineer or public works official, but if I could be either one in the fantasy world I think I would find it easier if the FHWA guidelines and recommended practices were in one place—not divided in two.

When we polled the readers on this subject, half were against the split and only 30% thought it would be easier. However, an e-mail from one of my traffic engineer followers spoke volumes. She made several valid statements:

  1. The MUTCD already distinguishes—quite clearly—between standards and optimal guidance;
  2. Splitting the MUTCD will not make vehicle/pedestrian travel safer or more uniform. It will make it more confusing for engineers, plan reviewers and municipalities, and make them more prone to lawsuits;
  3. Many states already have a separate document, and splitting the federal means one to two more review documents;
  4. Our infrastructure is in poor shape. The FHWA has bigger fish to fry;
  5. The national committee on the MUTCD is studying how/if to change the MUTCD, so any changes at the federal level would be immature; and
  6. A single document is more conducive to apps for your smart phone.
  8. I was always told the MUTCD is the Bible in the traffic-management industry. Do we carry the Old and New Testament to our place of worship? Most, however, do have separate books when it comes to prayers and hymns. I always thought the best way would be to consolidate, because multiple books only leads to more fumbling. Let’s hope the FHWA does not try to do too much with this draft.
Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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