TAYLORSVILLE – It can be tough to see road lines in Utah, especially after dark or when the roads get wet.
Even on bluebird days, it can be “almost treacherous,” said Susan Hilbig.
In February, Hilbig reached out to the KSL Investigators because she was particularly frustrated with the hard-to-decipher lane markings on Interstate 15, south of Point of the Mountain in Utah County. The area had been under construction.
“Many of the drivers, including me … find it very difficult to know where the right lane is,” she said.
Taylor Broadus said even completed roads were hard to drive in Utah.
“Driving anywhere across this state, especially in the dark, during the winter months, if the roads are wet or currently raining, it is impossible to see the lane dividers,” Broadus told the KSL Investigators in an email. “Could you please investigate why UDOT cannot use a paint that is visible to our state’s drivers?”
KSL-TV took those questions to Robert Miles, the director of traffic and safety for the Utah Department of Transportation. He said, for the most part, UDOT uses the same lane striping technology that is used in other states. All lane paint in Utah is laced with small glass beads that reflect a driver’s headlights.
Still, the technology is imperfect and is little match for constant abuse from cars, snowplows and road salt, Miles said.
“Sometimes with the salt residue in winter, those glass elements can lose a little bit of retro-reflectivity,” he said. “Sometimes markings wear out.”
Besides cleaning the roads, there’s not much engineers can do when the lines get buried under salt and dirt, Miles said, but they’ve come up with a solution for underwater.
A relatively new technology called “wet reflective” uses the same concept as the reflective glass beads, except the beads are designed to reflect better when they are underwater.
Wet-reflective beads have only been on the market for about four years. They are currently being used on some of the state’s roads, said UDOT maintenance engineer Kendall Draney.
UDOT plans to add it to more roads as the time comes for restriping. Most UDOT-maintained roads are restriped every one-to-three years.
The most traveled roads in Utah don’t use paint. They are striped with lane tape, which is more durable and cost effective. Draney said that tape is also being made with the new wet-reflective properties.
Road safety experts said they are always on the lookout for new and better technology.
This summer, UDOT will work with traffic engineers all over the country to test new lane-striping technologies with what’s called a “test deck.” They will paint and tape a road near Logan with a smattering of brand-new products, then watch how they wear over the next three years.
“Twice a year, we’ll go out and get readings on how reflective they are. How’s the material meeting durability, how’s it holding up over that timeframe,” Draney said. “Our hope is, from this test deck, that we’ll find new products that will be better than our current products that we’re using to be able to better serve the traveling public by keeping them safe being able to see these lines.”
Utah has also experimented with above-ground reflectors, which you’ve likely seen in cities that don’t get a lot of snow. UDOT said they’ve proven to be little match for the plows and end up costing a lot of money for a product that just gets ripped off the road.