Visibility of Steel Plates Used in Connection with Highway Repairs

Report No: 07-R16

Published in 2006

About the report:

Steel plates are used primarily in urban areas where an excavation is made in the roadway for utility work, such as installing or replacing utility lines, pipes, and conduits. The steel plate is positioned on the roadway to cover the excavation and allow traffic to proceed when utility work is not underway. Motorcyclists are challenged when they traverse a plate unexpectedly. Although the Virginia Department of Transportation has policies and procedures in place that all but eliminate the use of steel plates on the roads it maintains, such plates are used frequently in urban areas. House Bill 408 passed by the 2004 Virginia General Assembly required the Virginia Transportation Research Council to examine best practices to improve the visibility of steel plates to help make motorcyclists more aware of their presence. Although the bill was vetoed by the governor because of a technicality on the timing of the two parts of the bill, VTRC proceeded with the examination. The purpose of this study was to examine best practices for the use of markings to improve the visibility of steel plates. As a secondary objective, the ancillary effects of such markings on skid resistance were examined. State and local transportation agencies were contacted to determine their practices. This information was compiled, and promising means of improving the visibility of steel plates were examined. A stakeholder task group was created to participate in this effort. Task group members included motorcyclists, VDOT and local government staff and representatives, and representatives of utility companies and utility contractors. No state DOT marked plates to improve visibility. Warning signs such as "BUMP" and "STEEL PLATE" were used by several agencies. The City of Richmond uses a "STEEL PLATE AHEAD" advance warning sign and a plate-marking pattern that delineates the corners of the plate. For plates more than 10 feet long, skip lines are added along the sides. A warning "STEEL PLATE" sign in combination with corners only pavement markings on the plates was the method selected by the study task group to improve the visibility of steel plates. The recommendations of the study were implemented in the 2005 Virginia Work Area Protection Manual.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.

Last updated: November 25, 2023

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