Aerodynamic testing of variable message signs

Debbie Meyer, Florida International University


The increasing nationwide interest in intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and the need for more efficient transportation have led to the expanding use of variable message sign (VMS) technology. VMS panels are substantially heavier than flat panel aluminum signs and have a larger depth (dimension parallel to the direction of traffic). The additional weight and depth can have a significant effect on the aerodynamic forces and inertial loads transmitted to the support structure. The wind induced drag forces and the response of VMS structures is not well understood. Minimum design requirements for VMS structures are contained in the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials Standard Specification for Structural Support for Highway Signs, Luminaires, and Traffic Signals (AASHTO Specification). However the Specification does not take into account the prismatic geometry of VMS and the complex interaction of the applied aerodynamic forces to the support structure. In view of the lack of code guidance and the limited number research performed so far, targeted experimentation and large scale testing was conducted at the Florida International University (FIU) Wall of Wind (WOW) to provide reliable drag coefficients and investigate the aerodynamic instability of VMS. A comprehensive range of VMS geometries was tested in turbulence representative of the high frequency end of the spectrum in a simulated suburban atmospheric boundary layer. The mean normal, lateral and vertical lift force coefficients, in addition to the twisting moment coefficient and eccentricity ratio, were determined using the measured data for each model. Wind tunnel testing confirmed that drag on a prismatic VMS is smaller than the 1.7 suggested value in the current AASHTO Specification (2013). An alternative to the AASHTO Specification code value is presented in the form of a design matrix. Testing and analysis also indicated that vortex shedding oscillations and galloping instability could be significant for VMS signs with a large depth ratio attached to a structure with a low natural frequency. The effect of corner modification was investigated by testing models with chamfered and rounded corners. Results demonstrated an additional decrease in the drag coefficient but a possible Reynolds number dependency for the rounded corner configuration.^

Subject Area

Engineering|Civil engineering

Recommended Citation

Meyer, Debbie, "Aerodynamic testing of variable message signs" (2014). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3705090.