BAY VIEW, Ohio - The Edison Memorial Bridge is known for high winds and snow squalls that blow in off the frozen waters of Sandusky Bay in the winter.
To alert approaching drivers of dangerous conditions on the State Rt. 2 bridge, the Ohio Department of Transportation plans to activate signs this week that will flash messages about whiteouts, traffic tie-ups, and other dangerous conditions.
“It's a unique situation for northwestern Ohio in that you have a bridge and a causeway over a larger body of water,” said Joe Rutherford, a spokesman for ODOT District 2. “Everybody else can have normal weather conditions, and on the bridge you can have a whiteout.”
The signs, 8 feet tall by 24 feet wide, have been erected above the highway before the east and west ends of the bridge. Mr. Rutherford said power and communication lines for the signs should be installed by Friday.
The signs replace electronic message boards from the 1980s that had been inoperable for several years.
“The one message we could put up there was `Please drive carefully,' and that really serves no purpose,” Mr. Rutherford said.
Once the signs are wired, ODOT officials at the agency's maintenance garage in Oak Harbor or at district headquarters in Bowling Green will be able to program them with warnings, Mr. Rutherford said.
The signs will be able to display messages of two lines, with 15 characters per line.
“It's kind of short and to the point,” he said. “Because if you put too many words up, the public loses focus.”
If the bridge is closed because of an accident or hazardous because of high winds or blowing snow, eastbound motorists will be alerted in time to exit at State Rt. 269 in Ottawa County's Danbury Township, while westbound drivers will be able to get off at Route 269 in Erie County's Margaretta Township.
The signs also will flash information if Ohio's Amber Alert system is activated in case of a child's abduction.
Otherwise, the signs' LED displays will be blank - on purpose.
“What we don't want to happen is that the sign becomes part of the background, that it's always on and drivers tune it out,” Mr. Rutherford said.
“If the sign's on, they need to pay attention.”
The approaches to the bridge were marked with warning signs once before, in the 1980s, but the state decided to buy and erect the pair of signs for $250,000 after a 40-car pileup on the bridge in December, 2000. Lt. David Cope, commander of the Sandusky post of the Ohio Highway Patrol, said it was fortunate that no one was seriously hurt.
“That pileup had everything to do with the weather,” Lieutenant Cope said. “It was caused by blowing snow.”
Besides the new signs, ODOT is installing cameras trained on both signs and the bridge. The cameras will transmit live images to the District 2 Web site, www.dot.state.oh.us/dist2, allowing people to check conditions on the bridge before beginning their trip.