The Evolving Story of Brighter, More Durable Line Painting

A line marking machine paints a stretch of highway in BC.
Line painting in BC has been evolving over the last decade since oil-based paints were discontinued by federal regulations in 2010, due to concerns around the environment and worker exposure to volatile organic compounds.

We hear a lot of opinions about those old paints, and we understand the nostalgia. However, the fact remains that they’re no longer available to us. So, we’ve been coming up with solutions and honing our approach, to help you stay safely within the lines.

Pavement marking now takes place throughout the province at a higher standard than previously. In 2019, new line painting service agreements came into effect, improving on previous contracts, and require:

  • 20% more lines painted annually throughout the province;
  • larger glass beads in areas for increased reflectivity and visibility at night, and thicker paint for longer-lasting pavement marking;
  • second-coat application in areas that experience premature wear; and
  • enhanced contractor monitoring and auditing to maintain consistent performance.

Over the years, we’ve been testing and refining paint formulas – using low volatile organic compound alkyd and water-based formulas, and trying a variety of reflective glass beads that are put down with the paint.  We want the combination that gives us excellent visibility in darkness and low light, with durability, to help motorists to travel where they need to be on the highway. We’ve tested formulations in different climate settings where they perform differently.

Test lines of paint on a BC highway.
Line paint testing

Finding that “sweet spot” of brightness and durability is a challenge. BC’s mountainous terrain and winter weather is tough on pavement markings. The equipment we use to clear roads of ice and snow, and traction devices like studded tires and tire chains, wear away at line paint. Throw in winter abrasive and salt road treatments, and you’ve got grit that scours pavements markings, when vehicles roll over it.

Alberta, Alaska, Washington and Idaho have similar winters and high terrain, to us, so we all continue to share our findings.

Each year in BC, we paint more than 20,000 kilometres of highways and provincially owned side roads. Typically, the line painting season starts in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island in spring, due to milder conditions there. Pavement marking then takes place in the rest of the province, with schedules that are subject to change due to weather.

Lafrentz Road Marking is the contractor for BC’s five pavement marking service areas: Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, Thompson-Cariboo, Okanagan-Kootenay and the North. Each area service agreement has a five-year term (to 2023) and includes an optional two-year extension.

** Please slow down, obey all traffic control personnel and signage, and use caution when driving through areas where crews are marking pavement. **

More blogs about line painting, that you might find interesting:

Do you have questions about our pavement marking?  Ask us below.

Page 1 of 19 comments on “The Evolving Story of Brighter, More Durable Line Painting”

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  1. Have noticed the centre-line markings on Hwy. 33 between Big White Rd back to Kelowna are non-existent. I understand the need for environmental protection and fully support that, however road safety is extremely important. I have brought this attention to the local Okanagan contact as well via phone call. I would recommend we re-evaluate how we maintain our highways in terms of road markings and snow maintenance. If the paint isn’t even lasting a season, surely other best practices can be used to ensure safe transportation corridors. Maybe cat eyes?


    • Thanks for your comment and for letting us know that you have reached out to our local district staff as well. Unfortunately, cats eye reflectors don’t stand up to snow and plow activities very well but we are looking into other ways to extend the line markings despite new legislation.

  2. I think this is an important topic and one that should be fixed. With all our technology and knowledge, we can’t fix this and have a system that works?

    When it is dark and raining it is very difficult and almost impossible to see the roads. This is especially true on a two lane highway with the headlights of oncoming traffic coming at you. Sometimes the white line hasn’t even been painted and only the yellow lines have been. The white lines help us see where the road is!

    Asking us to slow down is responsible but not enough. Let’s find a system that works and get it done.

    I’m am tired of being scared to death and putting my life and the lives of my loved ones in jeopardy every time I drive in the rain at night.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sonja. Our ministry staff responsible are trying many approaches to determine which will work best in our unique environment. We have shared your comment forward for their review.

  3. I live on Salt Spring Island. I have had a continuing battle over the past years in order to get the lines painted on a regular basis i.e. Annually at least. The island is dark ( which is great) but we have bendy, narrow roads which are difficult to drive on in the winter months especially when it is wet. There is a misconception that the lines are needed only to keep traffic on the right side of the road whereas in fact we need the lines to actually see where the road is going! It is especially helpful when the white edge lines are painted. In Ganges, the lane lines last a few months before careless traffic wears them away. ( Mid road arrows/lanes for example) . Nothing is ever done to repaint them until the whole Island is scheduled to be fixed.
    When I travel to other parts of the CRD ( Metchosin for example) The lines are always clear. It seems to me that a half hour ferry trip (coffee break?) is what prevents the paint truck coming here more often. The lack of lines is a hazard, it must fall under some kind of health and safety regulations and if an accident is caused by the lack of renovation of these lines someone must be responsible.
    As for cats eyes in the centre I laugh when snow ploughs are deemed as a deterrent seeing as the coastal regions rarely (with exceptions) get snow. Certainly no more than the UK where there are always cats eyes. It would also be more helpful if you painted STOP lines at EVERY Junction but I gather the road has to be a certain width. Who made that one up I wonder.

    Finally, the lines would be more useful and permanent if you used the hot /glass bead filled line “Paint” which would last for years.
    Try driving around salt Spring in the winter and you will see just how dangerous it is. I hope that you can respond positively to this. Many thanks

    • Hello Aubrey and thanks for your comment. We shared your concerns with our local area staff who let us know that we rotate our painting crews around the Gulf Islands. Salt Spring was painted last year, and so we do not expect any line marking to occur there this summer. Currently, the ministry only installs stimsonites (or cat-eye reflectors) on numbered highways. We do however, include glass beads in all of our centre line paint, which aids in reflection. Winter in this corner of the province means rain and rain can reduce visibility, so we ask all drivers to slow down during inclement weather. We hope that this information is helpful. If you would like to discuss this further with ministry staff, we encourage you to reach out the local area manager in our Saanich area office. Here’s the contact information for that location:

      Saanich Area
      240 – 4460 Chatterton Way
      Victoria, BC V8X 5J2

      Hours of Operation:
      8:30 am to noon
      1 pm to 4:30 pm
      Monday to Friday

  4. Who is responsible for line painting in the city of Richmond, southbound in the left turn lane at the intersection of Sea Island Way and Garden City Road?

    There’s a set of dotted white lines in that left turn lane that I feel should not be there. It is not a double left turn lane but I see many people using it as such which is a safety issue.

  5. Our lines in the south caribou are mostly gone now.Too much salt has wiped out the diluted paint that is used nowadays.whats worse environmental unfriendly paint for lines or environmentally unfriendly salt

    • Hello KG,

      Thank you for connecting with us here. BC’s mountainous terrain and winter weather is tough on pavement markings. The equipment we use to clear roads of ice and snow, and traction devices like studded tires and tire chains, wear away at line paint. Throw in winter abrasive and salt road treatments, and you’ve got grit that scours pavements markings, when vehicles roll over it. We continue to work on ways to stay environmentally friendly while keeping line markings and the environment safe.

      • I think you need to do more. Enough talking and more action. There has to be a solution. We don’t want reasons why something can’t be done. We know how tough the conditions are, we are driving in them too.

  6. Is there a higher cost associated with using the square reflectors as opposed to painted lines? In pretty much every city ie Richmond/Surrey/Delta/Burnaby etc, the painted lines work fine during dry weather but as soon as its rainy, you can barely make out the lines on the road.

    I understand that snow plows tend to remove these reflectors from the roadway but what if the asphalt was indented to accommodate the reflector and prevent it from being removed.

    I just feel that those reflectors would work a lot better. I’ve been on roads which have employed the reflectors and even during heavy rain, they are completely visible and make it so much safer/easier to navigate the roadways.

    • Good morning Proman,

      Yes, these reflectors do cost more (and recessing the pavement to receive the reflectors is also costly, but the ministry does use them as and when they are needed. Within the cities of Richmond, Delta, Burnaby, etc., this work would be completed by the city or town itself and we encourage you to reach out to them with your concerns.

  7. When will the lines be painted between Invermere and Radium Hot Springs as a lot of Tourists are passing where ever they want and it has become very unsafe.

    • Hi Nancy – thanks for your question. We have sent it to our local area staff for review and will let you know what we hear back.

  8. Good to see this post on such an important aspect of our highway safety. Anyone who drives between Chilliwack and Hope in the winter at night in the rain, wishes the paint would last a little longer and glow a little brighter! By about end January every year, much of the middle line markings are worn away.
    Comments X 2
    (1) How about stamping rumble strips into each broken white line between lanes. New paint would flow into the grooves and remain visible but last much longer due to less physical contact with tires plus there’s the benefit of a tire noise warning if straying out of your lane.
    (2) Use luminous paint in the above mentioned rumble strip/broke white lines.

    • Great suggestion, Jerry! While rumble strips are not suitable in all locations, and do not quite fit the shape of our lines, we are currently trialing a durable inlaid method that uses a similar concept (linear grooves filled with durable paints) to see if this is a cost effective means of increasing the longevity and reflectivity of the lines.

  9. With vehicles now having systems that rely on good line markings (lane-keep assist and autonomous driving), having the higher low-light visibility is important.

    I’ll take to new low-VOC formula over oil anyday!