Blank Out Signs vs. Dynamic Message Signs: How Can You Save Money

Posted by Phil Perut on Oct 5, 2016 2:59:45 PM
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Throughout several blogs, we discussed the benefits of Blank Out Signs (BOS) and Lane Control Signs, and compared their technology against Dynamic Message Signs (DMS) and other types of signs. In this blog, we want to discuss the cost benefits of using Blank Out Signs and Lane Control Signs.

Quick Cost Analysis

Blank Out Signs typically range from $2,000 up to $15,000. A Dynamic Message Sign runs from $8,000 to $100,000. With such a vast difference in price points, it is critical to consider Blank Out Signs as an alternative to traditional DMS when designing a project or buying a sign for a specific application. Most of the time we hear people stating that they prefer a full matrix Dynamic Message Signs because they can display whatever they want. In addition to the cost of the sign, you must consider the cost of ownership. It is much more expensive to procure, install, and maintain a Dynamic Message Sign than it is for Blank Out Signs.

Let's Explore Some Alternative Cases & Applications:

blank out signs dynamic message signsCase #1: Weigh Station Signs

Signs are needed to indicate if the weigh station is OPEN or CLOSED. It is a very basic message and a Blank Out Sign is the best solution, as it is cheaper and easy to install. In some cases, these mobility signs can be used to give instructions to trucks drivers or to others. For example, if the truck is over weight, it has to stop immediately or enter the weigh station for inspection. The length of the message and the instructions still need to be relatively brief, but you have the room necessary to say "Truck Enter Weigh Station" or "Truck By-Pass Weigh Station". Most of the time, you will only need to display two or three messages. A Blank Out Sign is still the ideal solution as long as it is large enough to display letters in accordance with MUTCD rules, for example 12" or 18" characters of different colors (amber, white, red, or green) depending on the type of roads.

Cost comparison for different needs:

  • 1. Open/Closed Only Blank Out Sign = $2,500 to $4,000 depending on size compared to Dynamic Message Signs = $6,000 to $7,000
    • Cost saving BOS vs DMS = $3,500 per sign. 
  • 2. Weigh Station Blank Out Sign with instructions like "Truck Enter Weigh Station" or " Truck Bypass Weigh Station"
    • Blank Out Sign Solution compliant with highway use = $6,000 to $10,000
    • Dynamic Message Signs = $18,000 to $25,000.
    • Cost saving BOS vs DMS = $12,000 to $15,000 per sign. 

Case #2: Over Height Detection System

Numerous tunnels or bridges do not provide enough clearance for over-height vehicles - and we've all seen accidents where a high truck hits the top of a bridge. In addition to potential casualties, it often creates long traffic congestions lasting up to several hours. Many DOTs are currently implementing over height detection systems, but budgets are limited. Using a Blank Out Sign in place of a large Dynamic Message Signs helps to reduce the cost of such systems. Similar to the case above, the number of messages are limited to two or three warnings or instructions such as: 


If you are only looking to display a limited number of messages, there is no need for a large, complicated, full matrix DMS. 

  • Blank Out Sign 12" or 18" characters for highway use with 2-3 messages: $8,000 to $10,000
  • Dynamic message sign  = $18,000 to $25,000.
  • Cost saving BOS vs DMS = $10,000 to $15,000 per sign

blank out signs dynamic message signsCase #3: Lane Control Signs

Tunnel and bridge authorities are more frequently looking for solutions to improve Lane Management by closing or opening lanes to traffic at different time of the day to improve traffic flow and reduce journey time. DOT professionals often look to a small dynamic message sign with a full color matrix that can display almost any symbols to provide the messaging solution to this problem. However, the need is really to display a red X, a green arrow, and sometimes one or two additional symbols. A simple NTCIP compliant Blank Out Sign or Lane Control Sign with limited symbols is the most cost effective solution.

  • Lane Control Sign  or Blank Out Sign = $3,000 to $4,000 per sign + NTCIP controller cost of $4,000 per location. A modern NTCIP controller can control several signs at each location
  • DMS solution = $7,000 to $12,000 depending on size and matrix definition NTCIP controller of $4,000 per location
  • Cost saving $4,000 to $8,000 per sign

Case #4: Traffic Calming

Traffic Calming Signs are used in different cases to improve traffic safety. Because most DOTs and consultants are not necessary aware that Blank Out Signs can easily be installed and are very efficient, they tend to lean towards installing Dynamic Message Signs. In addition to the ease of use and installation, Blank Out Signs are much more cost effective.

  • Blank Out Signs Traffic Calming Solutions = $3,000 to $5,000
  • Dynamic Message Signs Solutions = $8,000 to $12,000
  • Cost saving BOS vs DMS = $5,000 to $7,000 per sign


Ownership Costs: Installation, Energy and Maintenance  

Not only is it important to compare the initial cost of a sign, but the total cost of ownership and operation fees should also be taken into consideration. Blank Out Signs and Lane Control Signs are of simpler technology and are very easy to maintain because there are less parts that can fail. There is no specific maintenance requirement for a Blank Out Signs, while a Dynamic Message Sign must be regularly serviced. Some DOTs and DMS manufacturers recommend to visit the DMS at least once a year. The power consumption of a DMS is much greater than a BOS which is illuminated only when needed.

Ownership cost of BOS vs DMS:

  • Installation cost: equivalent cost between BOS and DMS. In most of the case a Blank Out Sign does not require an extra controller cabinet. The installation is then much lower than a DMS.
  • Maintenance cost: BOS = $0 when a DMS require a visit per year at an estimated cost of $1,000 without traffic management
  • Energy cost: DMS will consume at least 70% more energy than a BOS.



In many instances, a good Blank Out Sign carefully designed for the application is much more cost effective solution than a Dynamic Message Sign. Bare in mind that Blank Out Signs can be customized and build upon request, all sizes and dimensions are available. 

SESA offers free consultation and design, no matter the project size. Want to know more?

Introductory Mobility Guide


Topics: Mobility, Blank Out Signs