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MDOT moves to new glass beads in lane lines near crash-prone areas

Higher reflective glass beads are being painted into lane lines across Maine. This, as MDOT asks for patience from the public for nightly striping.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Seven striping crews spread out between Augusta, Turner, and Bangor are about to begin nightly lane striping, the majority of it from Bangor down. As crews are traveling the roughly 16,000 miles of lane lines at about 10 mph, they are asking the public for patience.

“Please be aware of us," said Wayne Arsenault, the operations manager at the Maine Department of Transportation. “Second to snow plowing, it’s the safest thing we do on the road... But we don’t want [drivers] getting into the paint and track(ing) it on their cars.”

Glass beads in the MDOT's water-based paint are not really new, but VISILOK highway marking spheres are new to Maine and will be applied to areas more prone to crashes.

The beads are harmless to tires and people, but it's best to keep away from eyes (if you happen to be anywhere near MDOT facilities). The beads are 100% recyclable cullet. Cullet is an industry term for furnace-ready recycled glass, according to the Glass Packaging Institute (think window panes, not glass bottles).  

Dennis Robertson is a transportation crew supervisor at MDOT. Robertson is in constant communication with other states that deal with similar winter conditions to see what is working on the roads. Currently, crews groove lines into the road to prevent plow damage.

Snowplows wear down paint, but the new lines are thicker, and when carbide tip plows take off layers, new glass beads become exposed, causing similar reflectivity as the paint ages.

"It’s 80 percent round, and that’s what allows the light to return back to you when your headlights are hitting it at night,” said Robertson. “These trucks on average [put down] 1,500 gallons of paint per day -- anywhere between 4,500 and 6,000 pounds of beads a day.”

A supply truck tails the caravan with 250-gallon tubs of paint and beads. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to reload the tanks and to get back on the road.

On Maine-owned side roads, four-inch-wide lines are sprayed. Robertson says six pounds of beads per gallon and 15-16 gallons are used per mile. The interstate lines are six-inches and use 24 gallons per mile.

Maine uses more than 1.5 million pounds of glass beads per year depending on the weather and 250,000+ gallons of paint per year.

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