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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



The procurement of pavement markings is often a source of conflicting demands placed on agencies. Procurement is not just the purchase of the materials, but rather a more holistic view of a contracting mechanism that provides for the purchase, application, and maintenance of pavement marking materials at locations determined by the contracting agency.

As with any contract, a basic question is, "How does an agency ensure they are getting what they have paid for?" Typically, this is done by establishing a standard or specification that the contractor must meet. Herein lies the crux of the problem for procuring pavement markings.

While much of the information used to establish the basic standards and specifications are based on previous research and basic scientific principles, there has been an explosion of radically different types of products for pavement marking applications. This growth in the product base has outstripped the capability of the research community to adequately and scientifically establish a rigorous basis for what type of pavement marking works best for different applications and locations. While a recent report has proposed recommended minimum pavement marking retroreflectivity levels, it does not provide agencies with information on which materials will meet those minimum levels for a given period of time on a specific roadway under typical traffic conditions.(100)

Most State agencies have developed their own standards or specifications to adequately identify pavement marking materials for their specific applications, needs, and regions. Given the vast differences in applications across the country, significant weather differences, differences in vehicle and user populations, and a host of additional factors, the specifications that agencies have established may be significantly different. In fact, several different types of specifications now exist, including the recipe or component specification, the performance-based specification, and the warranty specification. Complicating the situation even more is that these specifications and the overall performance characteristics change based on the type of pavement marking material (paint, thermoplastic, etc.).

A root question pertaining to these differing specifications is, "What are the advantages and disadvantages of any given type?" Most importantly, is there evidence to assess the fundamental quality of the pavement markings as a function of the specification used to obtain them? If so, scientific research could be focused on creating a pavement marking specification with potential national applicability that would ensure the desired quality. This, in turn, could provide for better roadway information being supplied to drivers, potentially decrease crashes, and save money.


In general, the performance of pavement markings varies significantly from one location to the next. In order to achieve a consistent level of service across the roadway system, road agencies have developed recipe or component specifications for the installation and final inspection of pavement markings. A recipe or component specification defines the materials and application parameters for the components of the pavement marking system. A significant advantage of this type of specification is that the agency knows exactly what it is paying for because the provisions of the material and placement are all tightly defined-the type of equipment to be used, the rate for the application of the material, the ambient conditions during the installation, and the testing methods for final acceptance are described in the specification.

The main attributes of pavement marking are retroreflectivity, thickness, and durability. Thickness and retroreflectivity are predetermined before the installation of the markings. Durability is mostly dictated by the installation process. In general, road agencies will accept newly installed markings based on these three characteristics.

Different road agencies propose different initial levels of retroreflectivity to accommodate their road systems' needs. For example, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) specifies an initial retroreflectivity value of 450 mcd/lux/m2 for white thermoplastic pavement markings. Table 66 shows examples of wet paint and thermoplastic pavement marking retroreflectivity values indicated in component specifications.

Table 66. Component specification-initial retroreflectivity values.
(See references 101-109.)


Paint Markings

Thermoplastic Markings (mcd/lux/m2)


300 (white) and 200 (yellow)

450 (white) and 300 (yellow)

Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)

300 (white) and 250 (yellow)

450 (white) and 350 (yellow)

North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT)

225 (white) and 200 (yellow)

375 (white) and 240 (yellow)


Apply glass beads at a rate of 10 lb per gallon of paint (white-yellow)

300 (white) and 225 (yellow)

Delaware Department of Transportation

Minimum rate of 5 lb of beads per gallon of paint to obtain a minimum average retroreflectivity of 125 mcd/lux/m2 (white-yellow)

300 (white) and 200 (yellow)

Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT)

Minimum rate of 6 lb of beads per gallon of paint (white-yellow)

Minimum rate of 14 lb of beads per 100 ft2 (white-yellow)


Minimum rate of 5 lb of beads per gallon of paint and a maximum rate of 6 lb of beads per gallon of paint (white-yellow)

Minimum rate of 10 lb of beads per 100 ft2 (white-yellow)

As shown in table 66, some road agencies do not indicate a retroreflectivity value for pavement markings; instead, they indicate the minimum or acceptable rate at which glass beads should be incorporated to the base material. For example, GDOT specifies a minimum rate of 6 lb of glass beads per gallon of paint for painted pavement markings. The amount of glass beads incorporated to the base material combined with the physical properties of the base material provides the expected retroreflectivity.

Most component specifications prescribe the type of inspection for final acceptance of the pavement markings at the end of the proving period. The proving period ranges between 15 and 180 days of installation. The prevailing method for testing new installed markings is a direct measurement of the retroreflectivity using a handheld or mobile retroreflectometer. In general, agencies use an average retroreflectivity per line per sample unit to compare against the initial value specified.

TxDOT utilizes an alternative method for inspecting the markings. It has adopted a visual method for testing and accepting new pavement markings (Tex-828-B).(110) Testing is performed during the day and at night. The method consists of counting the number of visible stripes from a vantage point and comparing the count against a predetermined number. If marking defects are minimal, then the new markings are accepted. Otherwise, the new markings are rejected, and they have to be replaced at the contractor's expense.


In direct contrast to the recipe specification, a performance-based specification does not define the specifics of the materials and their placement but, rather, the overall goal that must be met by the markings. This goal, typically a minimum level of retroreflectivity within a prescribed number of days of placement, seeks to establish a sufficiently high peak, or starting point, of the pavement marking material.

While performance is known to degrade over time, establishing a performance peak at the beginning essentially assumes a normal wear-and-tear cycle over the anticipated life of the material. This assumption results in the anticipation that the minimum level of the performance indicator (such as retroreflectivity) will coincide with the physical end-of-life cycle of the material, leading to the material being replaced at exactly the right time. However, not enough is known about marking performance over time in different locations and applications to accurately set initial performance metrics to produce repeatable end-of-life cycles.

One advantage of this type of specification is that it requires less manpower from the agency to inspect markings at the time of application, since a reduced number of performance indicators, such as retroreflectivity, are inspected. Another advantage of this type of specification is that it provides flexibility to innovate and use alternative materials. For example, in 2007, VDOT solicited a proposal for a statewide performance-based contract for the installation of wet reflective pavement markings. The solicitation package indicated that installed wet reflective pavement markings should perform at a minimum in conformance with applicable VDOT standards, but the specifications related to material composition, installation methods, and material performance measures were to be proposed by the contractor.

Table 67 shows an example of performance criteria for evaluating the quality of installed pavement markings based on the KDOT performance specification.(111) To assess compliance with reflectivity and width requirements, the agency measures the pavement marking at predetermined locations. All other performance requirements are assessed based on the extent of the marking defects. The most common unit for the performance inspections is 1 mi of highway.

Table 67. Performance measures for installed pavement marking.


Performance Criteria


Average retroreflectivity above the minimum value.


Maximum of 0.25 inches above the specified plan width.


Each color shall meet the chromaticity limits. Less than
10 percent of the markings have discolored areas.


Lines should not deviate laterally from the intended alignment more than 2 inches in 200 ft.


Less than 10 percent of the markings have drag marks, gashes, foreign covering, or railroad tracking.


Less than 10 consecutive feet is missing from the solid lane line, edge line, or gore line.

Reflectivity requirements can be specified by indicating an initial value and assuming degradation over time or by indicating a minimum value for the estimated life of the pavement markings. For example, the Maryland Department of Transportation specifies the initial retroreflectivity value at the moment of installation, 500 mcd/lux/m2, for white striping tapes and the minimum retroreflectivity values for years 1-4, which are 400, 300, 200, and 150 mcd/lux/m2, respectively.(112) The contractor will be directed to replace the marking if the average retroreflectivity value is below the corresponding minimum value at the moment of the evaluation. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation defines a minimum retroreflectivity value of 125 mcd/lux/m2 for white paint markings and directs contractors to repair or replace all markings that fall below the threshold value after 1 year of installation.(113)

Performance-based specifications are not only used for purchasing and installing pavement markings but also for contracting maintenance services. Damaged pavement markings negatively affect the purpose of the markings and ultimately affect safety. Since the early 1990s, performance-based specifications have been used for directing pavement marking maintenance services. Table 68 shows examples of contract performance criteria for evaluating the quality of maintenance service with regard to pavement markings.

Table 68. Performance measures for pavement marking maintenance.



Performance Criteria


90 percent of the length and width of each line functions as intended

(1) Less than 10 percent of the length of any line is less than 5.4 inches wide during daylight inspection, (2) less than 10 percent of the length and width of any line is not visible for a distance of 160 ft at night, (3) less than 10 percent of the length of any line is missing, and (4) less than 10 percent of the length of any line is covered by soil, grass, or debris.


95 percent of markings are visible

(1) No edge lines, centerlines, or skip lines are worn, missing, or obliterated, (2) lines must be present, visible, and reflective at night, and (3) lines must be replaced when damaged/lost during pavement repair or winter weather events, regardless of who performs the snow and ice removal.



(1) Less than 15 percent of lines should be covered by debris, (2) less than 25 percent of lines should be damaged or missing due to snow removal operations, and (3) less than 15 percent of lines should be damaged or missing due to incidents or patching operations.

FDOT specified that pavement markings have to be visible at a distance of 160 ft at night.(114) To verify compliance with the performance specifications, FDOT staff evaluate the pavement markings using a testing method similar to the visual inspection method developed by TxDOT.(110) NCDOT does not include a minimum distance for the evaluation; it only specifies that the marking has to be present, visible, and reflective at night.(115) This omission may affect the repeatability and reproducibility of the assessment, which is one of the main characteristics of a performance assessment. VDOT does not include reflectivity in its performance criteria.(116) The intention is to direct routine maintenance only. Newly installed pavement marking are managed separately and in accordance with VDOT Road and Bridges Specifications.(117)


The warranty specification is essentially a type of performance specification. However, instead of focusing on an initial metric, the specification focuses on what the performance metric (typically retroreflectivity) should be at the end of the marking's life cycle. This life cycle may vary greatly depending on the application and type of material. Some warranty specifications are up to 5 years in length. If the metric is not met at the end of the service life, the contractor must replace the marking under warranty. The use of this procurement method has obvious implications on contracting timeframes, lengths of contracts, payment schedules, inspection procedures, and other similar items.

Survey on State Bidding and Procurement Processes

As stated previously, a fundamental question is, "What are the advantages or disadvantages of any given specification mechanism?" Additionally, "Do these advantages provide the capability to assess the quality of the markings procured under any type of specification?" Given that the scientific evidence to answer these questions is lacking, most of the available information comes from surveys or workshops.

A 2007 survey performed for the Iowa DOT Pavement Marking Task Force investigated the use of performance-based specifications across other State transportation departments. Of the 23 responses received, 13 indicated the use of some type of performance-based specification, most typically requiring a minimum initial retroreflectivity. The responses varied in terms of what types of materials are procured by a performance specification. A number of responses indicated a mix of specification types, with paint using a recipe specification but more advanced types of markings, such as thermoplastics and tape, utilizing performance characteristics. In most cases, the performance metric was initial retroreflectivity. Of the 23 responses, only 5, or approximately 22 percent, used a performance specification across all marking types.

There were no additional follow-up questions related to the specification type, quality assessments, or any information pertaining to actual or perceived quality of the markings obtained by the different specification mechanisms. Therefore, the only observation that can be drawn is that while performance specifications are in use, in some respect, their wholesale application to all material types is much smaller in roughly 50 percent of the States. Many States are still using recipe or component specifications, especially for paint, which is the most common pavement marking material.

In order to obtain additional information concerning the effect of State bidding and procurement processes on the quality of pavement marking material, the research team conducted a national survey in 2008 to gather information from the States regarding the impacts of State bidding and procurement processes. The survey was sent out along with a similar survey conducted as part of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program project 39-13, Pavement Marking Warranty Specifications.(118) While the survey had a number of questions, the first question was directly comparable to the 2007 survey previously described (see figure 43).

This figure shows the first question from a 2008 national survey used to gather information from States regarding the impacts of State bidding and procurement processes. The question asks, What type of pavement marking procurement process does your agency use for contractor-installed long-line pavement markings? For each material, including paints, thermoplastics, multicomponents, preformed tapes, and others, the user may check recipe or component specification, performance-based specification, warranty specification, or in-house marking application.
Figure 43. Chart. Survey question 1-procurement process

Figure 44 shows a graph of the responses for the first question in the 2008 survey. A total of 29 responses were received from agencies, which included State transportation departments and Canadian provinces. While it is immediately evident that the majority of the respondents are still using a recipe specification for the procurement of most types of pavement marking materials, a closer look at the data reveals some interesting facts. In many cases, agencies reported the use of more than one type of specification. For example, for the procurement of paint markings, 6 of 29 respondents indicated the use of both a recipe and a performance-based specification. Four respondents indicated on overlap for thermoplastics, four for multicomposite, and seven for preformed tapes. This indicates that agencies are not limiting themselves to a single procurement mechanism for a specific marking material. It may also indicate that agencies are using composite specifications, such as a recipe specification with some performance requirements, such as initial retroreflectivity. Because this result was somewhat unexpected, there is insufficient detail in the later questions to explore this issue in more depth.

This bar graph shows 2008 national survey results on the type of specification versus material. Percent of responses is on the y-axis from 0 to 100 percent, and the response is on the x-axis. Of the 29 responses received from agencies for the procurement of paint markings, 6 of the 29 respondents indicated the use of both a recipe and a performance-based specification, 4 respondents indicated an overlap for thermoplastics, 4 indicated using multicomposite,and 7 indicated using preformed tapes.
Figure 44. Graph. Survey responses: type of specification versus material

Comparison of the responses by agencies that participated in both the 2007 and 2008 surveys are also interesting. There were 12 agencies that responded to both surveys. Of these, seven reported the same results in both surveys. One agency that reported the use of performance-based specifications in 2008 did not report the same use in 2007. Four agencies that had reported the use of a performance-based specification in 2007 did not indicate the use of such a specification in 2008. However, the second question of the 2008 survey (see figure 45), which addressed the issue of changes in the specification type used to procure pavement markings, indicates that agencies did not actually revert back to a recipe specification after using a performance-based specification. Therefore, differences in responses between 2007 and 2008 may be due to differences in how the questions were asked and the answers tabulated.

This figure shows the second question from a 2008 national survey used to gather information from States regarding the impacts of State bidding and procurement processes. The question asks, Has your agency's pavement marking procurement process changed from a recipe specification to a performance-based specification or a warranty specification or a combination of the above (for any or all pavement marking systems used by your agency)? Options for response are: (1) yes-please answer questions 3-6 and (2) no-please explain why not, and particularly if your agency has tried a different type of specification only to go back to a recipe specification.
Figure 45. Chart. Survey question 2-procurement process change

Fourteen respondents indicated "Yes" to question 2, while 15 answered "No." There was no timeframe mentioned with regard to the change in specification, so there is no direct comparison available to the 2007 survey. The list of responses from the 15 agencies stating "No" includes the following:

Questions 3 through 6 of the 2008 survey focused on ascertaining the reasons for the change as well as any benefits or consequences. Question 3, shown in figure 46, listed several common reasons for changing from a recipe to a performance-based specification and asked respondents to identify all reasons that were applicable.

This figure shows the third question from a 2008 national survey used to gather information from States regarding the impacts of State bidding and procurement processes. The survey question asks, What were the underlying reasons for the change? Options for response are: lack of State forces for inspection, lack of quality/durability, initial costs, life-cycle, reported benefits, research findings, Sate regulations, and others.
Figure 46. Chart. Survey question 3-reasons for process change

Many agencies responded with more than one reason, so the total number of responses represented in figure 47 is significantly greater than the number of agencies (14) that indicated a switch in their specifications.

This bar graph shows 2008 national survey results on the reasons for switching to a performance-based specification. The y-axis shows the number of responses from 0 to 10, and the x-axis shows the response. Of the agencies that switched to a performance-based specification, eight did so due to lack of State forces for inspection, nine did so due to a lack of quality/durability, two did so due to initial costs, eight did so due to life-cycle, six did so due to reported benefits, two did so due to research findings, and two did so for other reasons.
Figure 47. Graph. Survey responses: reasons for switching to performance-based specification

The four most common answers were as follows:

"Lack of State forces for inspection" is a significant answer because it points to a particular onus or disadvantage of the recipe specification. Because individual components are detailed in a recipe specification, a significant amount of inspection may be required to assess if the contractor is applying the materials in accordance with the specification. By comparison, in a performance-based specification, the inspection needs are typically reduced, since fewer performance indicators, such as retroreflectivity, are inspected.

The answer "lack of quality/durability" indicates that a significant number of the respondents are trying to increase the quality of their pavement markings and are using performance-based specifications as one avenue to achieve that goal.

Question 4 of the 2008 survey asked respondents to identify the benefits of the move to a performance- or warranty-based specification (see figure 48). Although the format of the question provided no mechanism to differentiate between expected and realized benefits, respondents were asked to check all answers that applied. Because of this, the tally of the number of responses to the individual items in question 4 is larger than the number of respondents answering "Yes" to question 2.

This figure shows the fourth question from a 2008 national survey used to gather information from States regarding the impacts of State bidding and procurement processes. The survey question asks, What were the expected and realized benefits (please provide examples if available)? Options for response are: lower initial costs, higher initial costs, lower life-cycle costs, higher life-cycle costs, more durable markings, less durable markings, innovative products or application techniques, industry teaming/innovation, and others.
Figure 48. Chart. Survey question 4-expected and realized benefits

Figure 49 identifies that the highest number of responses was associated with a desire to lower the life-cycle costs and obtain more durable markings. This is a clear indication that agencies recognize, or are investigating, the use of performance- or warranty-based specifications to improve the quality of the pavement markings.

This graph shows 2008 national survey results of benefits of switching to a performance- or warranty-based specification. Number of responses is on the y-axis from 0 to 14, and response is on the x-axis. Of those agencies who switched to a performance- or warranty-based specification, 1 indicated lower initial costs, 1 indicated higher initial costs, 8 indicated lower life-cycle costs, 1 indicated higher life-cycle costs, 13 indicated more durable markings, 6 indicated innovative products or techniques, 3 indicated industry or teaming innovation, and 1 indicated other reasons.
Figure 49. Graph. Survey responses: benefits of switching to a performance- or warranty-based specification

Question 5 of the 2008 survey investigated if there were any unintended circumstances of the switch in specification type (see figure 50). Respondents were again asked to check all answers that applied. Because of this, the tally of the number of responses to the individual items in question 5 is larger than the number of respondents indicating a switch in their specifications.

This figure shows the fifth question from a 2008 national survey used to gather information from States regarding the impacts of State bidding and procurement processes. The survey question asks, Were there any unintended consequences? Options for response are: reduced number of contractors, disputes between owner and contractor regarding retroreflectivity, responsibility of retroreflectivity reporting, additional administration burdens, and others.
Figure 50. Chart. Survey question 5-unintended consequences

Figure 51 shows a fairly even distribution across all responses. Therefore, the expectation is that a switch to a performance- or warranty-based specification should hold no hidden trouble spots.

This graph shows 2008 national survey results of unintended consequences of switching to a performance- or warranty-based specification. Number of responses is on the y-axis from 0 to 5, and response is on the x-axis. The answers among respondents for unintended consequences are as follows: four indicated reduced number of contractors, three indicated disputes between owner and contractor regarding retroreflectivity, four indicated new responsibility of retroreflectivity reporting, three indicated additional administration burdens, and one indicated other consequences.
Figure 51. Graph. Survey responses: unintended consequences of switching to a performance- or warranty-based specification

The final question in the 2008 survey was an open-ended question asking respondents to describe how the change in specification use has affected the quality of the markings. The responses were as follows:


There is no research that conclusively demonstrates that a move to performance- or warranty-based specifications for the procurement of pavement markings will result in higher-quality installations. In fact, as evidenced by reviewing recent surveys of State agencies, there is a wide disparity in how agencies are procuring pavement markings. This is perhaps influenced by the lack of a national standard for basic pavement marking performance, such as retroreflectivity.

However, the surveys show some important trends and information. First, many States are implementing, or at least experimenting with, performance- or warranty-based specifications. It is reasonable to assume that in a time of significant fiscal constraints, this trend represents an underlying belief that the pavement marking procurement process can be improved by moving to a different type of specification. Furthermore, responses from the surveys indicate that many of the agencies investigating these types of specifications are doing so to obtain higher quality, longer life cycles, increased durability, and a reduction in administrative costs such as inspections.

The scope of these responses goes beyond one or two agencies and is largely similar across different surveys performed at different times. Not only does this provide some degree of verification to each survey effort, but it indicates a widespread national interest in improving the quality of pavement markings. The procurement process is certainly one area where quality could reasonably be affected by moving to a mechanism that prescribes expected results, regardless of the makeup of the materials.

One important obstacle to the utilization of performance-based specifications is the lack of true maintenance responsibility geared to the overall performance of the product or installation. Most installations are performed by local and small contractors that prefer component specifications rather than a performance-based approach. Bundling pavement marking installation with other road services, such as routine maintenance or pavement rehabilitation, is a viable alternative for the utilization of performance-based specifications; however, this type of contract may be attractive only to large contracting firms.3

3 Based on information obtained from VDOT Traffic Engineering Division.


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