Monday, July 10, 2023

I spy. … orange on I-5!

By Kris Olsen

If you’ve driven on Interstate 5 in the Fife area in the past month you probably noticed that a portion of it has a new look. It’s gone orange!

In early June, we painted half of the traditional white lane lines with orange between Porter Way and Wapato Way in Fife for the SR 167 Completion Project. This is the first time in the state we’ve used bright orange contrast lane striping in a work zone. This pilot project will gather information to help us and the Federal Highway Administration determine whether orange lane striping is an effective tool that can be used by highway departments across the nation to improve safety for drivers and workers in construction zones.

Orange striping was put in on I-5 in Fife about a month ago as part of a pilot project to see if it improves safety near work zones.

Any results yet?

Within days of the orange striping on the roadway, we started getting the question, “Do you have any results yet?” The short answer is no. The longer answer is that we’ll gather data and information through the end of the summer. Then, it’s going to take some time to process it and draw conclusions. We anticipate the results will be turned in to the FHWA in early 2024. Anecdotally on social media, we’ve heard some people say it’s definitely helped bring more attention to the work zone, and others say people are still going too fast through there.

Your opinion counts in the pilot project

If you’ve gone through the area recently, we’d love to know what you think of the orange striping. Take our orange striping survey anytime through July 30 to share your opinion. The survey asks questions such as the time of day you went through the area, whether you thought the orange striping increased your awareness of the work zone, if it was easy to see the lanes (especially in the dark or rain). There are also demographic questions (totally optional) that help us understand our audience better and if we need to increase efforts to reach different people who live, work and drive through the area. Other statistical data we’re collecting for the FHWA includes vehicle speeds, collisions, work zone intrusions and lane changes. All the information gathered in our survey will be included in the study results sent to the FHWA. We collected similar information before the orange striping so we can compare before and after results.

Why we’re trying orange striping

The safety of road crews and people traveling on our highways is always our top priority – every day. That’s why we use concrete barriers, bright orange barrels, illuminated arrow boards, and construction signs and reflective safety clothing. In areas with long-term lane shifts, such as I-5 in Fife where we’ve shifted lanes to the right while we build new bridges, faint “ghost” stripes from old lane lines are often still visible and can confuse drivers. The orange striping allows us to observe whether contrast striping enhances driver awareness of the work zone. We want to know if it:

  • Improves drivers’ ability to maintain lanes.
  • Improves compliance with posted work zone speed limits.
  • Increases driver awareness of work zones.
  • Reduces work zone collisions and intrusions.
We will share results we get from this pilot project with the Federal Highway Administration as they studied new tools to improve work zone safety.

“Work zone collisions don’t just affect construction crews,” SR 167 Completion Project Engineer Tom Slimak said. “Motorists and passengers account for 95% of the people hurt in work zone collisions. We want to make sure everyone gets home safely. Orange striping could be one more tool in our toolbox to make sure that happens.”

Last year, there were 1,192 work zone collisions across the state. Pierce County, where Fife is located, was the site of 22% of those crashes. That’s 274 collisions.

Doing our part to improve work zone safety

Four other states have also tested orange striping: California, Kentucky, Texas and Wisconsin. Each state applied the orange striping a little differently such as painting it next to the white lane lines or completely replacing them. Our application to the FHWA proposed using orange to replace half of the white lane stripes. Our information will be added to the data from other states to help the FHWA determine if orange lane striping can help increase work zone safety. If one of the variations works, it’s another safety method that will help workers and drivers.

But whether you’re driving through the orange-striped work zone in Fife, another work zone or no work zone at all we urge drivers to make good choices before and after getting behind the wheel: don’t drink/drug and drive, put away electronic devices, pay attention to the road, follow posted speed limits (especially in work zones). Driving safely is free! But a collision could cost everything for you or someone else.


t said...

You need to continue to test this concept before reaching conclusions. I believe the orange striping will prove to be an added safety factor, and at minimal cost.

WSDOT said...

All study pilot projects do need to come to an end at some point.

We conducted a month-long pre-striping community survey last spring and then conducted a second community survey after the striping was installed. Both surveys collected information about work zone awareness, ability to stay in within lane markings, frequency of travel and times of day. We also collected statistical information after the striping was installed to measure speeds, collisions, intrusions into the work zone and drivers’ ability to maintain lanes. This data will be compared to the same data we gathered before the striping was installed.

All of the information will be analyzed and provided to the Federal Highway Administration. Our study data will be added to the body of gathered by four other states that have also tested orange lane striping. The different states have all applied the striping in different ways. Ultimately, the FHWA will make the determination on whether orange lane striping is effective and can be used regularly in roadway work zones or if more testing is needed.

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