There are nearly 10,000 road signs around Redwood County, and Mark Guetter of the county highway department is the man who takes care of them.
There are about 9,739 road signs in Redwood County, not including ones within every town’s city limits.
Of that number, about 1,000 are street signs marking the gravel roads around the county. A approximately 2,500 are residential signs out by farm houses on rural roads.
The rest are the standard stop signs, detour signs, flooding signs, weight restriction signs, road construction signs, and others.
Matt Guetter, sign specialist at the Redwood County Highway Department, is the guy who sets them up and takes care of them.
Guetter started doing signs in 2007, when Larry Okins retired.
“Larry was here since 1973,” said Guetter. “This job gets to be a lot of lifting. I don’t know how he did it.”
Guetter estimated he spends about 60 percent of his time out on the road, in his specialized truck.
The rest of his time is spent in the sign office of the Redwood County Highway Department, and doing inventory, creating new signs.
Many signs come complete as it, ordered from several companies that create them.
For more specialized signs, Guetter orders aluminum blanks, and creates the lettering himself.
“We’re the only county in the state that still makes detour signs in-house,” he said. “With small signs, it’s quicker for us to make them ourselves than to order them.”
Previously the lettering was silkscreened on the signs. Today they are a plastic film glued to the surface of the sign. The film is easier to create, and easier to remove later on.
Signs come in different levels of reflectivity as the technology improves.
“The latest are DG3, for ‘diamond grade,’ he said. “They’re more prismatic and reflective.”
In fact, the latest road signs are so reflective they have to be set up at a slight angle to the road so the reflection from a vehicle’s headlights doesn’t blind the driver.
Needless to say, there’s a huge book of federal and state regulations Guetter has to follow in buying and setting up road signs.
Among the regulations Guetter has to take into account:
“Each sign should be at least 12 feet out from the pavement to the edge of the sign, and the bottom of the sign has to be at least 5 feet high so snowplows miss it,” Guetter said.
“In rural areas it’s pretty simple, pretty cut and dried,” he said, adding that in cities, the rules and regulations can be a nightmare.
Strictly speaking, the various townships are responsible for many of their own signs, but the county helps out most of the time.
Each city is responsible for its own signs within city limits, for the most part.
However, when a county road crosses into a town, Guetter is responsible for those signs, too.
Taking care of signs is seasonal. Guetter is busy outdoors during spring, summer, and fall, but spends his winters mostly in the shop.
The biggest signs Guetter sets up are 4x4 feet. On windy days, they can be a royal pain to set up.
Strictly speaking, all the stripes and other markings on the road fall under the county sign department. Guetter subcontracts them out to private contractors, however.
When the county does road construction, it’s Guetter who goes out and sets up the detours. There were three major detours in the county last summer; Guetter had to set up the signs, flashing lights, and road markings for each.
“When the county engineers get a project together, we’ll have a meeting,” Guetter said. “They’ll tell me, ‘We need a detour for here,’ or ‘We need these markings there.’ I’ll coordinate with them when the signs need to be up.”
Much of Guetter’s time is spent on basic maintenance.
Guetter said a sign facing toward the sun usually lasts about seven years before it needs to be replaced.
“If it’s in the shade, it can last 20 years. I’ve seen ones in the shade for 10 years that looked like new,” he said.
“We’ll get a call that a sign is down, or there’s been vandalism,” he said. He also has to replace stolen signs as necessary.
Whenever possible, Guetter tries to reuse old signs. When that’s not possible, he recycles the aluminum blanks.
“Each road closed sign costs the county $300, so when people shoot them up, it adds up.”