The National Academies

NCHRP 04-16 [Completed]

Cost and Service Life of Pavement Markings

  Project Data
Funds: $340,327
Research Agency: Pennsylvania State University
Principal Investigator: Dr. John J. Henry
Effective Date: 10/1/1984
Completion Date: 9/30/1988

A wide variety of materials is available for the marking of streets and highways. Traffic paints have been the mainstay of marking materials for the past 60 years, but the recognition that paints have severely limited serviceability in locations of high traffic volumes and/or extreme climate has led to the development of new paints and materials over the past 20 years. Traffic paints are either latex-based or solvent-based comprised of alkyd, chlorinated rubber, or epoxy resins. In severe service conditions such materials may provide 6 months or less useful life. Durable marking materials generally are solventless systems and can be epoxy, polyester, or either hydrocarbon or alkyd thermoplastic materials. Their service life when properly applied can approach 3 or more years. Traffic paints traditionally have been applied by state and municipal forces, whereas durable marking materials are generally applied by private firms under contract.

Applied traffic paints can cost from $0.025 to $0.06 per lineal foot (4-inch line), while durable markings can cost from $0.055 to $1.25 per lineal foot. Cost disparities also exist for special markings, such as crosswalks, turn arrows, and other in-lane markings. A higher initial cost may be justified if the effective service life of the durable material exceeds that of traffic paint in the same location. Higher costs may also be justified by the more intangible benefits of continuous, year-round delineation and reduced exposure of striping personnel and the public to hazardous striping operations. Such benefits are particularly important for special markings. In some cases, environmental restrictions may dictate the selection of marking materials. The judgment of whether the cost of a material is reasonable for a particular set of circumstances (climate, traffic volume, condition of previous markings, pavement type, highway geometry, etc.) should be made on the basis of its probable service life. However, factual data on which to base such judgments are scarce. Some general information is available from field tests and operational use of various types of pavement marking materials, but there has been little to no specific treatment of the problem of how to select a cost-effective marking material for a particular set of circumstances. In addition, the influence of width (4, 6, and 8 inches) on the effective service life of traffic lines has not been established. This lack of comprehensive data is disturbing in light of stringent budgets.

The objective of this research was to determine the typical service life and cost of various types of pavement marking materials and to quantify how major external factors affect service life. Maximum use was made of existing information from field tests and operational installations, and a limited amount of new field testing was conducted. Guidelines were developed for the use of commercially available pavement marking materials, including selection criteria affecting the optimum balance between cost and service life. The materials evaluated included: paint, epoxy, epoxy paint, alkyd and hydrocarbon thermoplastics, polyester paints, epoxy thermoplastic, and preformed materials. The research tasks included (1) a critical review of published results and a survey of selected highway agencies, (2) compilation of estimated installed costs per foot for each material type, (3) field tests of selected materials to determine service life, and (4) the development of guidelines for determining life-cycle costs for various marking materials. The research was completed, but since many of the marking materials did not fail at the test decks during the observation periods, the relationships between costs and service life could not be fully ascertained.

Status: The research findings are summarized in NCHRP Research Results Digest 178.

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