New digital signs coming to I-94, will warn drivers of road conditions

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. – As holiday travel kicks off again in Michiana, some are bracing themselves for the winter storm anticipated to hit on Friday.

“I understand it’s going to get a little bit crazy around here,” said Chad Merrihew, visiting Michigan from Minnesota.

Those preparing include the snowplow operators at the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“Our numbers are good, our staffing numbers are good, obviously our equipment is ready to go. We’re just waiting on Mother Nature to do her best and we’ll come in behind her and clean up,” said MDOT Spokesman Nick Schirripa.

But even as snowplows clear the roads, driving during winter storms can still be dangerous, resulting in accidents and even fatalities—caused by icy roads and drivers going too fast.

One stretch of I-94 can be particularly treacherous: “That stretch of I-94, from the Indiana county line all the way to Jackson County—it’s that stretch of I-94 that sees the most dramatic winter weather,” said Schirripa.

To help prevent further accidents and deaths, MDOT installed 11 new digital signs along I-94—two were converted from older signs—to help inform drivers of the current road conditions.

“They’re not just the big, digital message signs that we’re all used to seeing,” said Schirripa. “They’re actually going to have another component along with it that, at times, will display a variable speed suggestion. Not only are we putting up variable speed if appropriate, but also a text message that goes out to motorists, whether it’s ‘caution ahead’ for an incident, or whether you’re about to drive into those kinds of things—so it’s a dual message on those signs.”

These signs are able to display that information to drivers using a variety of sensors and cameras attached to them—collecting data on atmospheric and road conditions, to give an accurate sense of what the roadways are like—and potentially save lives.

Schirripa said “Our hope is that by arming motorists with as much information as possible about road and traffic conditions and weather conditions ahead, and even going as far as to suggest a lower speed—instead of just having those static 70 mile-per-hour speed limit signs out along the highway—if they see a big sign that recommends you only go 40, maybe that will help folks reduce their speeds, drive in a safer manner and really reduce the number of crashes overall, and certainly the number of fatal crashes.”

It's a move that drivers appreciate.

Merrihew said that he’d never seen similar signs before but added, “It sounds like a great idea.”

Unfortunately, the signs will not be active and issuing warnings until early 2023—but Schirripa said there is a possibility that some of the signs may display warnings and data during the upcoming winter storm, for holiday travelers.

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