New Tool Shines a Light on Line Paint Brightness

Able to record 400 measurements per second into an internal computer and function wirelessly, a state of the art retroreflectometer is our newest tool for testing line paint performance.

While the name retroreflectometer sounds like a flashback to 1970s disco lights, our 12-kilogram mobile marking retroreflectometer is mounted on the side of a ministry vehicle. As the vehicle moves, the device gauges how the line markings and raised pavement markers (like cat’s eyes or road studs) below are holding up, and the brightness they are delivering. The data flashes across a screen inside the vehicle, to give a live reading of what’s being measured, and allows the operator to make adjustments to the device.

What’s Retroreflectivity?

Retroreflectivity, or low light visibility, is crucial to highway safety. When your vehicle lights connect with the pavement markings, the retroreflectors (usually tiny glass or plastic beads) embedded into the lines, bounce the light back to your eyes.

In addition to the retroreflectivity data, the device stores information about the contrast between the pavement and the marking, marking coverage, line type (eg. solid, broken, double), line width, GPS coordinates, temperature, humidity, performance of raised retroreflective pavement markers, vehicle speed, date, time, and user-programmed information. The device can measure both white and yellow, and flat and inset markings, on roads that are smooth or rough, under various light conditions.

“Stickier” Paint, Bigger Beads for Lasting Brightness

We recently got this measuring tool, so we can delve more deeply into the performance of our new line marking paint, in places where durability and visibility have been a problem. The new paint formulation allows for thicker application than our previous paints, and contains the most advanced resin available. (What’s resin? Similar to the sticky stuff from trees, it binds things together.)

We’re expecting the paint will stand up better to scraping snowplow blades, studded tires, chains and the scouring effect of winter traction grit under vehicle tires. The other key aspect of this “thicker” and “stickier” paint is that it holds onto the new slightly larger glass beads that we’ll be using to enhance the line’s visibility.

The new paint and blend of beads will be applied on sections of provincial highways, where paint endurance and visibility have been less than glowing. This includes stretches of Highways 1, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 4A, 5, 7, 14, 16, 18, 19, 22, 27, 97, 97A, 97C, 99 and the Coquihalla and Malahat Highways.

We’re excited about using our new retroreflectometer and expect it will play a shining role, as it helps us with the science of developing better, brighter pavement markings.

Page 1 of 23 comments on “New Tool Shines a Light on Line Paint Brightness”

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  1. Can you explain why road marking that used to last years, are now dangerously eroded in a matter of months. I am told that the previous oil based paint was considered toxic? This leaves me somewhat confused as the complete asphalt road is oil based? I have trouble believing that oil based paints were the reason for the old, long lasting paints could have been that bad? Especially when I would like to assess the increase in injuries and deaths of humans from faded road markings.
    I look forward to watching the new higher visibility paint, but truly hope that it will also last longer than existing paint – lets find a balance of the environment and safety of drivers.

    • Hi Geoff,

      Thanks for your comment. Since the introduction of new federal environmental regulations to reduce the use Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) in 2010, all Provincial Transportation agencies have moved away from the use of acrylic paints. Newer paint formulations are more environmentally friendly as the elimination of the toluene acetone, methylene chloride and other organic materials have been replaced mostly by water. The remaining (solid) components of paint remain the same as with the previous formulations.

      We do recognise that there are challenges retaining pavement markings especially in parts of the province that experience extreme winter conditions and winter maintenance.

      There are many other things that contribute to the loss of paint on our roads:

      • the increased traffic volumes;
      • increased use of studded tires and
      • carbide steel edged plough blades for winter snow plowing to a black pavement during winter conditions is perhaps more likely the reason for the loss of road markings than any other factor.

      The problem of pavement markings retention is not excusive to British Columbia. We have been working with our partner jurisdictions of Alaska, Alberta, Washington State & Idaho to resolve the issues around painted line durability. Each of these transportation agencies shares materials research and we also share and use each other’s paint formulations. We have worked with other Canadian transportation agencies in Saskatchewan & Quebec who follow the same Canadian materials regulations.

      Recently we have been working with our line marking contractors to trial new paints that are able to be placed at thicker application rates and carry larger more reflective glass beads. We expect the results of these trials to be available next spring. Having said that, we will always have areas where the conditions are so harsh that no currently known markings can be retained though a winter season.

      The best option in the more difficult environments is to switch to more durable road marking products such as thermoplastics, MMA (methyl methacrylate) and plastic polymers and these materials or pavement marking products can cost more than eight times the cost of paint.

      We have embarked on using these types of more durable pavement markings as budgets permits (currently about $2 million annually) in high traffic areas like the lower mainland and lower Vancouver Island where conditions of less snow and more rainy type of weather prevail.

      We hope that this answers your question. If you have any other concerns, please let us know.

      • Eureka!…
        New “Stickier” Paint, Bigger Beads for Lasting Brightness, possibly even thermoplastics and plastic polymers will be applied on sections of provincial highways where paint endurance and visibility have been less than glowing.
        Highway 99 between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish is one place where paint endurance and visibility have been less than glowing. The Sea-to-Sky highway to Whistler along Howe Sound is a challenging highway to drive after dark, particularly during the winter rains. In addition to the roadway constantly winding as it follows the contour of the mountains, there’s negligible pole lighting, there’s no “cats eyes”, lane paint is barely visible let alone reflective, oncoming traffic headlights are blinding… at times it can be a most nerve-racking ordeal.
        Please advise if this section of Hwy 99 is to be included.

        • Hi John,

          Thanks for your questions about pavement markings on the Sea-to-Sky Highway. I am checking into this and will get back to you here.

          • Thank you Mr. Editor. While waiting for a response I’ve been doing additional research and came across the website of The Miller Capilano Maintenance Corp, which is MOTI’s commissionaire for the Sea-to-Sky Highway.

            The website informs that the BC Ministry of Highways entered into a CONTRACT with MCMC the concessionaire to maintain and rehab of the Sea-to-Sky Highway for an extremely long period; from June 2005 to September 2034.

            So the essence of my question is this:

            In the interest of motorists’ safety, specifically visibility, will MCMC the concessionaire be given a purchase order and be required to use the new stickier type paint capable of being placed in thicker applications and of holding larger more reflective glass beads, or will the concessionaire be permitted by MOTI to substitute some less expensive product?

          • Hi John,

            Thanks for your questions about our concession agreement with the Sea to Sky Highway Limited Investment Partnership (SSHILP) to design, build, finance and operate the Sea-to-Sky Highway, and whether the requirements in upcoming pavement marking contracts for elsewhere in BC, will affect this route.

            The Sea-to-Sky project was initiated to improve highway safety, travel times and capacity between Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver, and Function Junction south of Whistler. SHILLP (the concessionaire) had to design, build and finance two-thirds of highway improvements, and operate/maintain the highway for 25 years. SHILLP has contracted out the maintenance activities for the route to Miller Capilano Corporation.

            One of the safety upgrades was introduction of inlaid highly reflective pavement markings. Miller Capilano uses products from the ministry’s approved product list, including a glass bead that is similar to the larger glass bead that will be required in the new pavement marking contracts. These beads help the pavement markings be brighter at night. They will be used with MMA (Methyl Methcrylate) due to its durability and suitability for heavily trafficked roads.

            As Miller Capilano is already using pavement marking products on the Sea to Sky Highway, that are equivalent to those in the upcoming contracts for elsewhere in BC, we will not be asking the concessionaire to change their pavement marking products or practices.

  2. Hopefully the new resin will make a big enough difference for driving in the rain in the dark. Cant believe how useless the current lines are in those situations. It would also be smart for the province to start installing some fencing rather then just the pathetically low concrete dividers to reduce glare from oncoming traffic in low light/dark driving situations.

  3. does it take into account the angle (line of sight) for low riding vehicle such as sports cars or high riding vehicles like a tractor-trailer?