Sign language, VDOT style

Published 9:59 am Tuesday, September 29, 2015

While recently driving south on Route 20 toward the golf course in Farmville, I was stopped by road construction.

On the tailgate of the large dump truck ahead was a sign that warned, “Work Truck, Do Not Follow.” How ridiculous. Why would I choose to follow it? Work was the last thing I wanted that day.

If the truck was heading in my direction and I coincidentally “followed” it, would I get a ticket? To be safe, I considered asking the “Slow/Stop” sign fellow where the truck was going, but he was busy chatting it up with his counterpart at the far end, so I sat patiently.

Email newsletter signup

Traffic finally proceeded across the torn-up roadway, and we were soon cruising on newly finished asphalt. A VDOT sign on the shoulder read, “No Center Stripe.” Duh, I thought. What’s the point? Maybe that dump truck needed such information, but I surely didn’t. It was perfectly clear there was no center stripe on the smooth new asphalt. I didn’t think that no road striping meant I could zig-zag all over the road. Oncoming traffic gave me a good hint to stay to the right, stripe or no stripe.

Then came the “End of Road Work” sign, which I and all the other drivers had already figured out, seeing no more men leaning on shovels. Plus, we were driving on an old road surface, much like the former condition of one being repaired. Somebody, however, decided it needed a full makeover. Perhaps it was on a long-term VDOT maintenance schedule and budget money was in a use-it-or-lose-it stage. It would be bureaucratic blasphemy to lose it.

Continuing toward the golf course, I began focusing on road stripe patterns. We all know a broken line on our side of a solid line means we can pass. A single broken line means passing is allowed in both directions and a double line allows no passing for anybody. Pretty straight-forward, even for an old duffer like me.

Then I thought, instead of two stripes, wouldn’t a single stripe in the middle of the road send the same no-passing message? Why waste time and money painting two lines? Actually, labor costs aren’t an issue, since the equipment paints one or two lines at a time, but the cost for all that unnecessary paint is very significant.

Virginia has nearly 50,000 miles of secondary roads. If only 10 percent of those miles have a double yellow stripe, that’s 5,000 miles. If it takes 10 gallons of paint-per-mile of stripe costing $25 per gallon, that’s $250 a mile for 5,000 miles. At that rate, we’d save $1,250,000 by converting to a single stripe “no passing” zone.

Granted, my calculations for paint costs and mileage might be out of whack, I challenge VDOT to assess the feasibility and savings of changing to a single stripe instead of two for no-passing zones.

Finally, I made it to the golf course on time, despite the disruption and distractions. Yet, my driving to the course was far smoother than my driving on the course that day. VDOT owes me a mulligan.

Rich Jones is retired and lives in Buckingham County. He graduated from Guilford College, is a U.S. Air Force veteran and spent most of his career in public relations. His email address is