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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-12-048    Date:  November 2013
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-12-048
Date: November 2013


Pavement Marking Demonstration Projects: State of Alaska and State of Tennessee


Section 1907 of Public Law 109-59 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) directs the Secretary of Transportation to perform the following:

"...conduct a demonstration project in the State of Alaska, and a demonstration project in the State of Tennessee, to study the safety impacts, environmental impacts, and cost-effectiveness of different pavement marking systems and the effect of State bidding and procurement processes on the quality of pavement marking material employed in highway projects. The demonstration projects shall each include an evaluation of the impacts and effectiveness of increasing the width of pavement marking edge lines from 4 in. to 6 in. and an evaluation of advanced acrylic waterborne pavement markings."(1)

Furthermore, the Secretary is directed as follows:

"...submit to Congress a report on the results of the demonstration projects, together with findings and recommendations on methods that will optimize the cost-benefit ratio of the use of Federal funds on pavement marking."(1)

In response, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) established a research project to address the directives. In order to satisfy the requirements of section 1907, FHWA divided the legislative directive into the following main topics:

Durability study: A study of the cost effectiveness of different pavement marking systems based on maintained retroreflectivity, including advanced acrylic waterborne systems. Chapter 2 of this report contains a description of these project activities.

Safety study: An evaluation of the operational and safety impacts of using wider-than-normal pavement marking edge lines. The operational studies conducted under this research are described in chapter 3, and the safety studies are described in chapter 4.

Environmental study: An evaluation of the potential environmental impacts of pavement marking systems. Chapter 5 contains a description of the environmental work performed and the findings.

State bidding and procurement processes study: A review of the effects of State bidding and procurement processes on the quality of pavement marking material employed in highway projects. Chapter 6 describes the details of the efforts conducted for this study.


The U.S. transportation sector moves people and goods, employs millions of workers, generates revenue, and consumes resources and services produced by other sectors of the economy. In 2005, transportation-related goods and services contributed $1.3 trillion (10.4 percent) to the $12.5 trillion U.S. gross domestic product.(2) A large amount of transportation occurs on the Nation’s 4 million mi of streets and highways.(2) In general, the safety and quality of these streets and highways are unmatched anywhere else in the world. Many of the highway safety innovations used throughout the world have been developed in the United States.

Pavement markings play an important safety function on U.S. roads. They inform drivers of the intended travel path for short-range operations and the roadway alignment for long-range delineation. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) describes their characteristics and warranting criteria to ensure consistent application of pavement markings, setting national standards on their application.(3)

Despite the national pavement marking standards described in MUTCD, according to a recent American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) report, a highway death occurs every 21 min as a result of a lane departure.(4) In total, that is more than 25,000 fatalities per year or almost 60 percent of the Nation’s highway fatalities. (Note that FHWA cites 53 percent compared to 60 percent.)(5) Because these types of crashes are the largest safety problem in the United States, FHWA promotes a strategic approach to prioritize and implement a safety program that includes appropriate countermeasures, with roadway departure as one of FHWA’s four focus areas for safety. In addition, AASHTO has developed Implementing the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan, which is designed to reduce these numbers.(6) A key objective of the FHWA roadway departure focus area and the AASHTO safety plan is to keep vehicles in their lanes and on the roadway. Installing and maintaining effective pavement markings is one immediate way to meet these objectives.

The national highway crash trends noted are not exclusive to highways and interstates. Historically, approximately 50 percent of fatal crashes occur on local roadways (i.e., county, township, and city).

As called for in SAFETEA-LU, individual States have developed Strategic Highway Safety Plans.(1) For instance, for the last 3 years, the Missouri Department of Transportation has focused on lane departure countermeasures. It has implemented various countermeasures, including increasing pavement marking widths from 4 to 6 inches on all major highways, which have led to a 25 percent reduction in lane departure fatalities from 2005 to 2007.(7)

The science and effort dedicated to effective pavement marking materials and practices can sometimes be overlooked. Perhaps this is a function of pavement marking unit costs, typically presented in cents per foot, which are $0.10 to $0.25 per 1 ft for installation of conventional markings. However, when each marking on a highway and each mile of a highway are summed, the annual cost of pavement markings can be surprising. Several sources of State agency information were combined to develop an estimated annual cost of pavement markings. The estimate is based on data from 18 States, making up 45 percent of the State-maintained highway miles in the United States.(8) Extrapolating the average cost per mile for the remaining 32 States produced a total annual estimated pavement marking expenditure of $911 million in 2007. This figure is about 1.5 percent of the estimated total capital and maintenance expenditures on State-maintained facilities in the same year (approximately $62 billion).(9)

In addition to State-maintained facilities, pavement markings are also installed on local roads, toll authority roads, private roads, and other facilities such as parking lots and airports. Local roads account for about 75 percent (or 2.93 million mi) of the Nation’s highways and roads, of which about 1.65 million mi are paved.(10,11) While many of these roads are not marked, there is undoubtedly a substantial proportion that are marked.

The task of effectively managing pavement markings falls jointly on Federal, State, and local transportation agencies. (Private or semiprivate authorities are also involved in some jurisdictions.) These agencies serve as stewards of the public and work within available sources of funding to install and maintain pavement markings in an efficient and effective manner.

The key elements of pavement marking performance are visibility and durability. It is important that drivers see the pavement markings during the day and night and that the markings have a sufficient service life. Paint traditionally has been used for pavement markings because of its availability and low cost. However, the durability of paint is generally less than 1 year, depending to a large degree on traffic volumes, environmental conditions, and the need for plowing operations in snowbelt States. Newer pavement marking materials are constantly being developed to increase visibility and durability but at higher initial costs. These newer materials generally require more sophisticated application equipment and techniques, which are not typically cost effective for transportation agencies to own and operate. Therefore, contractors, rather than agency personnel, install many of the newer materials. This leads to various contracting options, such as performance-based and warranty-based specifications.

Maintaining pavement markings is important for adequate operational performance and safety. Accordingly, maintenance personnel in transportation agencies are charged with managing the visibility and durability of pavement markings. The challenge of maintaining visible markings throughout the year is especially difficult in high traffic locations and on mountain pass highways, as well as for States that allow studded tires or have bare pavement snow removal practices. Many States have found that it is most efficient to apply waterborne paint pavement markings twice per year because of the winter maintenance activities. Even with this level of attention, pavement markings on mountain passes or horizontal curves cannot always be maintained in a cost effective manner at specific performance levels.

In addition to testing marking visibility and durability, many agencies are experimenting with advances in pavement markings to reduce crashes. For instance, agencies are working with profiled pavement markings that produce a combination of vibration and noises to notify drivers that they are leaving the intended travel path. Other factors, such as an emphasis on accommodating older drivers, have also inspired State transportation departments to evaluate their pavement marking programs. Finally, States are also experimenting with different bidding and procurement processes in an effort to more efficiently install and maintain quality pavement markings on the road.

The research topics included in the SAFETEA-LU section 1907 Pavement Marking Demonstration Project are timely and appropriate as they address many of the ongoing issues that Federal, State, and local transportation agencies face. This report has been prepared to concisely address the topics as described in SAFETEA-LU section 1907.(1)


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