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New font making signs more visible

Craig Cunningham
Signs like this one along Interstate 77 north of Charleston have already been replaced with newer signs featuring the Clearview typeface. The West Virginia Division of Highways will eventually replace all interstate signage with the newer font as part of sign replacement projects in coming years.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Signage on West Virginia's interstate and U.S. highway routes should be a bit more decipherable thanks to a relatively new font showing up across the state.

Dubbed "Clearview" by its creators, the font has started becoming more common on highway signs across the country since its interim approval by the Federal Highway Administration in 2004.

In West Virginia, Interstate 77 north of Charleston and Interstate 64 in the Huntington area have already had older signs replaced by new ones featuring the Clearview font.

Signs along Interstate 70 in the Northern Panhandle started being replaced with the new font this year, and the next mass-sign replacement project is scheduled for U.S. 50, followed by Interstate 79.

"All of the interstate signage is generally going to be using the font," said Carrie Bly, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

The new Clearview typeface was the result of studies and research during the 1990s and 2000s at the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute at Penn State University and the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University.

Designers of the font included Larchmont, N.Y.-based Meeker & Associates and Terminal Design, Inc., based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

As a result of the research, Pennsylvania and Texas were among the earliest states to begin using Clearview. In addition to Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Ohio are other West Virginia neighbors that are among the 30 or so states that have started using the newer font.

Clearview has been shown to increase legibility and visibility, at least on "positive contrast" signs, or those with light lettering on a green, blue or brown background. The visibility changes appear to be the greatest for older drivers and those with vision impairments, especially when viewed from a distance.

"In general, it's easier to read," Bly said. "Anything we can do to increase visibility is great."

But, the Clearview font is still not the official font recommended for use by the Federal Highway Administration, and individual states must request interim approval from the agency to use the font, which West Virginia did a few years ago.

Since then, the state Division of Highways has been replacing old signage with new signs using Clearview during regular sign replacement projects on interstates and major highways. Bly said signs on other roads will likely still use the old highway font, informally known as Highway Gothic.

The latest sign replacement projects have also started using new reflectivity technologies, which should further increase visibility.

Bly said the lifespan of an average highway sign is about 15 to 20 years, after which it usually has worn out enough to need replaced. The division works to replace signage on entire sections of road at a time, instead of replacing signs one-by-one.

For interstates and other major highways in West Virginia, signs are made in the state's Central Sign Shop in Charleston, Bly said, while other signs are produced in sign shops in each Division of Highways district.

From the Central Sign Shop, a single crew charged with sign work throughout West Virginia erects the new interstate signs.

Part of the reason the process for creating and placing new signs is so time-consuming is sheer size and number.

"They're big," Bly said, with some up to 14 feet by 25 feet.

The signs are also subject to numerous regulations, especially for interstate routes. Every interchange needs signs for the exit itself, as well as advance notice signs ahead of the exit. There are also mileage and information signs, too.

The Federal Highway Administration only recommends using Clearview for positive-contrast signs due to possible visibility issues with negative-contrast signs (such as those with black lettering on a yellow or white background). However, some states have used the font on negative-contrast signs anyway.

The federal administration also frowns on using Clearview for numbers within route markers, explaining why the font generally hasn't found its way onto signs like interstate and U.S. highway shields.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him on Twitter @DMLocalGov and on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/ DailyMailLocalGov"> www.facebook.com/ DailyMailLocalGov


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