It’s no surprise bad weather creates terrible road conditions. But many people are increasingly concerned about the visibility of painted lines on Utah roads.
Nearly 18,000 people signed a petition by Tuesday morning asking state legislation to remark the “interstates, highways and surface roads” with reflective lines to prevent car crashes.
“From the moment it starts to precipitate the existing road lines become invisible, making it excessively dangerous to travel, even during mild weather,” Nick Bodkin wrote on the initial request.
He started the petition three weeks ago and received only 10 signatures in the first few days. But that number passed 10,000 after a recent flurry of snowstorms swept through the state.
“I’m amazed at the amount of support it’s received,” Bodkin said on a social media message. “My petition was more or less a gut-check for Utah residents. I wanted to give us a platform where anyone that believed that this was a public safety issue could stand up and have their voice be heard.”
What people may not realize is that Utah roads are already striped with reflective paint, said John Gleason with the Utah Department of Transportation. The stripes just don’t reflect well in the winter when salt, snow and dirt cover the roads.
“Because of our unique environment and climate here in Utah, lane striping has consistently been one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced,” Gleason said.
Reflective paint is actually made of thousands of tiny glass beads designed to reflect light, especially in headlights at night. But whenever rain or snow covers the roads, the water is often more reflective than the striping.
“The biggest struggle is finding a product that will hold up in all weather conditions, including the beating that our roads take from salt and snow plows,” Gleason said.
In 2018, UDOT officials started testing a different type of reflective paint on I-215 near north Salt Lake City and south near Murray. The new paint is a mix of standard reflective beads and weather-resistant beads designed to hold up better in harsh climates.
Officials plan on leaving the experimental paint on the road for a few years to test all types of weather conditions.
“So far, our engineers are encouraged by the results,” Gleason said. “There is that possibility that we could see this implemented in a much broader application.”
He and other Utah officials often discuss possible solutions cold-weather states and work together on improving road striping across the nation.
Bodkin said several Wyoming residents reached out to him about the bright paint on the roads in their state. He plans to speak with Wyoming officials about their process for marking roads.
Warmer states like Arizona and California use raised pavement markers on the road striping. But those same markers would be quickly worn down by snow plows driving constantly on Utah roads, Gleason explained.
In recent years, UDOT started recessing, or grooving out, the lane markings on highways and interstates. The grooves in the road help the paint last longer than on a typical flat road surface.
“We’re always looking at the latest technologies and we’re very interested in making the striping on our roads as visible as possible,” Gleason said.
He encouraged drivers to slow down, stay alert and use extra caution while driving in hazardous conditions.
“Especially in these stormy winter weather conditions, you have to put down the distractions and focus all your attention the road,” he said.