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Orange lane stripes added to a stretch of I-5


Orange lane stripes added to a stretch of I-5

Jun 09, 2023 | 3:01 am ET
By Laurel Demkovich
Orange lane stripes coming to a stretch of I-5
Orange construction-zone lane striping near Fife, on Interstate 5, in Washington state. June 2023. (Washington State Department of Transportation)

Something new is coming to roadwork zones on Washington’s highways this summer: orange lane stripes. 

The Washington State Department of Transportation painted new orange markings in a construction zone on Interstate 5 near Fife, an attempt to alert drivers that they should slow down and use caution. 

The orange stripes will remain in place through the summer.

When driving through the work zone with new lanes, motorists should continue to use caution, observe the 50 mph speed limit and follow construction signage, according to the department. 

The orange stripes appear between milepost 138 near Wapato Way and milepost 139 near Porter Way as part of the State Route 167 Completion Project, a multi-year construction project that will build six new miles of tolled highways between Puyallup and the Port of Tacoma.

The new lane markings are another tool the state is turning to as it tries to improve safety on the state’s highways. Last year, 745 people died on Washington’s roads, the greatest number since 1990, according to a report by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. 

“WSDOT is committed to improving driver and worker safety,” department project engineer Tom Slimak said in a statement. “This includes carefully trying new strategies that could help improve safety for both workers and drivers in work zones.”

The department will conduct surveys and collect travel data to determine whether the orange pavement markings increased driver awareness. The data will then be given to the Federal Highway Administration, which will use it to determine if the new color is an effective method for improving safety and if it should be used in other parts of the country. 

Different stripe color, different results?

California, Kentucky, Texas and Wisconsin have already tested orange striping. Pilot projects with the paint in those states have shown mixed results.

An analysis by the Kentucky Transportation Center at the University of Kentucky found speeds in Kentucky remained about the same in work zones with orange stripes versus those with white stripes. 

But drivers in Texas and Wisconsin said in surveys that their awareness increased. According to survey results, 61% of Texas respondents said their awareness of the zone increased and 88% said they wanted to see the orange markings in other zones. In Wisconsin, about 80% of drivers surveyed said they preferred the orange markings to white markings, especially in difficult-to-maneuver lanes. 

The hope in Washington is that the new lanes will help both construction workers and motorists stay safe, according to the department. The risk of collisions in work zones remains high. 

The new lane markings follow other state-level safety improvements targeting roads. Bills to lower the state’s blood alcohol limit to 0.05% and to ban right turns on red failed to make it through the Legislature year, but a bill to add automated speed cameras in work zones passed.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the camera bill into law in April, which allows the Department of Transportation to install the recording equipment in construction zones. The cameras won’t be added until 2024, but when they are, they’ll be clearly marked to alert motorists to slow down.