Shedding light on Snoqualmie Pass

Monday, February 3, 2014

By Meagan McFadden

This is how the LEDs will look
once they’re installed in the highway.
It’s cold, dark and raining. You prepared for this trip over Snoqualmie Pass all week, but there is one thing you cannot prepare for. Where are the lane stripes? The only thing separating your car from the car next to you is your attention.

On an average winter - this year being an exception! - more than 400 inches of snow falls on Snoqualmie Pass. Lane stripes fade from deicer, snow removal, studded tires and chains. Keeping lane stripes visible is a big challenge! This year we will have a striping truck at the Hyak maintenance shed so we can try and get out whenever the weather is dry to restripe areas that are fading.

Safety is our number one priority. With the help of a federal grant aimed at improving highway safety, we are testing a new kind of lane marker to help define where the lanes are. Basically, we are going to insert a solar-powered light into the highway, the fancy name is a solar-powered light-emitting diode. We are hoping these LEDs will help drivers see where the lanes are during the long dark Cascade winters. We will be installing the LEDs this summer over the summit of Snoqualmie Pass.

Before we start the project, we want to hear about your experience driving over Snoqualmie, particularly during dark, rainy conditions. Whether you travel over the pass once a month, once a year or once in your life, please take a few minutes to shed some light on the visibility of lane markings over the pass by taking our online survey. This survey will be online until later this summer. Responses from the survey will establish the baseline of public opinion before the new lane markers are in place.

This project is the first of its kind in the state and we are hopeful the new kind of lane markings will improve visibility despite dark, seasonal conditions. If successful, solar-powered LED lane markings may be considered for other locations along the I-90 corridor.

We will conduct a follow up online survey in the fall of 2014 to determine if drivers think the new LED markers improve visibility of the lanes.

We hope next winter, you won’t be squinting and asking yourself, “What lane am I in?”

15 comments:

Michael Hanscom said...

I like the idea, but given how fast snow can pile up, I wonder how well they'll stay visible during a storm (which is when the lanes are most likely to disappear).

Anonymous said...

Wondering how will the solar feature work when the snow is piled up and there isn't much sun in the winter?
Sounds like a wonderful idea though. This is definitely being pro-active. The stripes up there are usually always hard to see!
thanks WSDOT.

WSDOT said...

This is a pilot project and we are hoping these new kinds of lane markings will provide a better option than the stripes. Through our research of these LED’s they are supposed to work during the night and with snow. We will be monitoring them after they are installed to determine if this is really the case.

Anonymous said...

I crossed the Pass at night, just before Christmas when the roadway was bare and wet. Falling snow combined with spray from the road made it impossible to see the lane dividers. This sounds like a great idea, but I am concerned about an electronic device being able to stand up to the abuse from trucks, snow plows, tire chains, de-icing solution, etc. I hope that there will be a small scale test before a major investment is made.

WSDOT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WSDOT said...

Thanks for the comment. The LED’s are powered by daylight and will be recessed into the concrete so they are less likely to be damaged by snowplows. This is a pilot project with Federal funding to target innovations to improve highway safety. We are testing these new kind of lane markings to see if they can withstand conditions on Snoqualmie Pass. The kind of material we have been using for lane stripes doesn’t last very long.

Unknown said...

I've seen these elsewhere, I think in one of the tunnels along the North Cascades Highway (WA20), and they contributed greatly to lane awareness. I have the same concern as others about performance in the snow. Snoqualmie Pass is often just wet, and on nights like that, these would greatly enhance safety.

Anonymous said...

Red in color?

WSDOT said...

The color of the LED’s will be white.

Anonymous said...

Anything to improve lane visibility should and will be a welcome improvement.

Glenn Gruner said...

In the snow, vehicles mostly just follow the paths in the road that are already there. For me, the biggest value will be in the rain at night year round. With headlight glare bouncing off the roadway the lines can be virtually invisible. I love this idea.

DR Quincy said...

I travelled the pass at night on October 4th. Some of the new lights were installed. They seemed to be intermittant in some places, like some were missing or not working. At one particular point the lights lined up just right and appeared to make a sharp right hand turn into the ditch. It was just for a moment, but still gave me a jolt. Very easy to see. Yellow on the left line, white on the lane deviders and fog line.

WSDOT said...

The lights you saw over Snoqualmie Pass are part of a pilot project to improve visibility. We are installing the solar-powered Light-Emitting Diodes in different locations from the just west of the pass up to the top of the pass to get an idea of how well they improve visibility. That’s why they seemed to be intermittent. There are areas with just LED’s on the shoulder, on the barrier and down the center line. We do have an area that has about a mile of the LED’s in both the shoulder, barrier and the center line. We are testing the LED’s this winter to see how they hold up with the snowplows, chains and deicers as well as how well they can be seen under snow. If the LED’s hold up this winter we may look into putting them across the pass in more locations where visibility is a concern. We are still in the process of installing the LED’s so there are areas where we haven’t finished installing everything.

Anonymous said...

This has been a major issue for years. Lines are impossible to see in rain/fog/snow at night - add crazy drivers and semi's on a weekend and it becomes a stressful drive to say the least. Travelled across last weekend and noticed the lights which offered a HUGE improvement and made the drive much more enjoyable (for the short strip where the lights were placed). Hats off to WSDOT for this innovative approach to highway safety!!! I hope this approach works well and look forward to seeing the installation on the West side of the pass.

WSDOT said...

We are glad to hear you like the new solar-powered LEDs on I-90. This is a pilot project to test approximately 4,600 LEDs along a 5-mile stretch of the pass. We know visibility is a concern, especially in the winter and during dark, rainy nights. As part of the pilot we will be monitoring the LEDs over the next three years to test durability and longevity. This winter will be the true test to see if the LEDs can withstand snowplows, chains, studded tires and deicers without breaking or going out. Since it’s a pilot we may not be able to go back and replace the LEDs that get damaged or burn out until we are able to get more funding.

 

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