Virginia crews working overtime repairing highway signs after a sign came crashing down on Interstate 66.
"I was surprised that the sign structure on 66 had fallen because we are out there inspecting them frequently," said Nick Roper. He’s in charge of sign inspections in our area for the Virginia Department of Transportation. "We've been doing quality insurance inspections of all of our cantilever structures since that failure."
They still don’t know why it fell, but inspectors are focused on the anchor bolts, Roper said.
Inspections showed it was in good shape, he said, and workers inspected more than 500 similar cantilever signs.
But we wanted to know about all of the signs in our area.
After weeks of negotiations, VDOT released its inspection records for northern Virginia to the News4 I-Team.
Internal records show an estimated 8 percent of cantilever and overhead signs are in "poor condition."
But records show the very tall lights called “high mast” light poles have the most problems.
Inspectors look for very specific things. For instance, on a high mast pole near the intersection of Interstate 495 and US 50 in Fairfax County, inspectors noted there’s no cover on the electronics panel and the system holding up the lights. Down below, they focused on the anchor bolts, which are covered in rust. Those are what hold the pole to the groun,d and inspectors noted they have too much space, they don’t have washers and there's no clearance underneath.
VDOT’s internal records show as many of these high mast poles are in “poor” or “serious” condition.
But Roper cautioned the records are out of date and the number is closer to 15 percent.
"Pulling a sample of reports,” he explained, “I noted that about half of those pulled had had those deficiencies corrected."
We found many have been repaired or replaced.
The News4 I-Team went up and down northern Virginia highways checking out some of the worst rated.
Near Gallows Road -- a rusty pole, corroded bolts, a cracked foundation.
On I-66 near Rosslyn -- washers and nuts coming off. Duct tape holding broken parts together.
But Roper cautioned, "If the public can see corrosion on a bridge beam or a sign or a pole, that doesn't necessarily mean they need to be concerned that the structure is in danger of falling."
He said the structures are safe because they're inspected every five years.
But Henry Jasny with Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said the signs should be inspected every two years.
“They're massive and they're heavy," Jasny said. "There's always a risk if they're not in good repair."
Back on I-66 near Arlington, inspectors noted missing bolts on a heavy crossbeam more than three years ago.
News4 found, there's only one bolt holding it on now -- over a lane of traffic.
After we told VDOT about what we found, the state took the entire sign down.
Next, we expand our investigation into Maryland and D.C. Find out why there's isn’t a consistent inspection policy for highway signs and why it’s allowed some signs in our area to go decades without being inspected. Catch it tomorrow night on News4 at 11 p.m.